Shreyas Kulkarni

Influencer creativity and engagement under a cloud after ASCI’s guidelines?

Sketches with brand plug-ins towards the end and viewership are under threat if one has to declare at the start that a post or video is an ad.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) wants social media influencers to disclose, right at the start of a post or video that they upload, if it’s an advertisement, or contains a brand’s plug-in.

This “disclaimer” is at the centre of the draft social media guidelines that Indian adland’s self-regulatory body released on February 21, 2021.

“The consumers must know what they are seeing is an ad, as they consume content and ads in different ways,” Manisha Kapoor, ASCI’s general-secretary, tells afaqs!.

ASCI will provide labels that the social media influencers will have to use to declare if their post or video is an ad or not.

Kapoor’s point is well-expressed in this video that Ranveer Allahbadia, a social media influencer and podcaster, released under his Beer Biceps brand name on 23 February 2021.

The intriguing title made yours truly assume that the video would speak about the amalgamation of robotics technology and human beings. Or, the dystopian possibility of androids (robots) taking over the human race. There were slight shades of both in the video.

But it was all but a promotion for upGrad, a Mumbai-based edtech company. The description box talked about the promotion in detail. But not many would read it (or noticed it) at first. This is the kind of situation that ASCI wants to resolve with its guidelines.

We wanted to understand if adding the labels before a social media post/video would affect the influencer’s creativity. Say, your favourite one has a neat sketch that’s funny, hooks you right from the start, but is a brand reveal or a sponsorship. Well, it’s no longer possible under the ASCI guidelines.

Our point is best-expressed in this video, between 5.00 and 5.30. It’s an excellent example of how a smart brand plug-in works.

“I think stating on the post or video that it's sponsored or paid will hamper the creativity of an influencer. It's going to mess around with the experience of those consuming the content,” says Raj Shamani, a digital content creator and podcaster (620K-plus followers on Instagram), and founder of Shamani Industries. The company manufactures and supplies a variety of fabric and kitchen care products, and detergents.

Raj Shamani
Raj Shamani

Shamani feels it’s better to tell people that a post or (Instagram) 'Reel' is sponsored in the caption. The creators seamlessly blend brands with their content. They integrate it with their day-to-day lives, and that’s “the reason why people prefer watching ads in the form of content over TVC.”

Varun Mayya, an education influencer (115K followers on Instagram) and founder of digital university Avalon Meta, tells us that he is doubtful of the guidelines affecting creativity. But he does feel that it will be a test of loyalty because “we judge creators by the number of followers or views. But it is about time we started judging creators by their loyalty and audience quality.”

Varun Mayya
Varun Mayya

Mayya went on to say that the best creators in India have loyal audiences, who are okay with promotions. They really like the personality or content of the creator. “They understand that they have a livelihood and need to maintain that.”

Sanjyot Keer
Sanjyot Keer

Chef Sanjyot Keer, founder of Your Food Lab (1.95 million-plus YouTube subscribers), says that platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, let you tag a particular piece of content as branded. Most influencers follow the norm. And so, it won’t hamper creativity… “But I feel that it isn’t feasible to introduce strict guidelines in some aspects...”

Engagement woes?

Along with creativity, we also wondered if the guidelines will play spoilsport when it comes to user engagement. Think about it, you spot a video, but before you get into it, you are being told it’s a sponsored post… Many viewers, we feel, will scroll down because they will lose interest.

"The viewers appreciate the fact that the creators inform them upfront that the content is paid for. The viewers are interested in watching such content," says Keer. He remarks that superimposing labels from ASCI, unlike FB and Instagram, where a label is posted above the content and below the title, will hinder the look of the frame.

"I feel the current labelling system is perfect. You don’t have labels on television for ads. The content viewing system is different on different platforms. The current labelling system ensures that regular content is differentiated with tags and labels."

Mayya, however, feels that it’s not a bad thing because the paid partnerships feature has always been around on Instagram. The platform doesn't allow bigger creators to get away without disclosing brand participation.

Shamani, on the other hand, feels that it will hamper user experience because people watch content creators because of the content creators themselves. If they are being told that it’s sponsored, they will lose interest.

“If there has to be a disclaimer that it’s a paid post, it needs to be at the point when the influencer is showing the brand, or talking about the product, and not at the beginning. If it is at the beginning, then it will kill the vibe of influencer marketing.”

ASCI will be accepting feedback and inputs until March 8. Based on them, it will issue the final guidelines by March 31.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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