The rise of social media influencers has taken the world of advertising by storm. With an increase in smartphone penetration there has been a sharp increase in brand promotions by influencers on platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook and Youtube. The influencer market has grown rapidly in recent years and is estimated to be a $75-150 million market in India, compared to the global market of $1.75 billion, as per digital marketing agency, AdLift's report.
In a bid to protect consumer interest, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), will soon roll out new norms for social media influencers to promote products on the internet.
The reason brand collaborate with influencers is to share their brand proposition with the influencer’s large follower base that is thousands and sometimes even millions. Earlier, marketers only had the option to rely on celebrity endorsements to raise such brand awareness.
Big brands, such as Vivo, Hyundai, Maruti Suzuki, Lenskart, HDFC India, Nike, Nykka and many others have collaborated with influencers, such as Bhuvan Bam, Prajakta Koli, Kusha Kapila and Shruti Anand to name a few.
The digital advertising landscape has opened the gates for 'nano and micro' influencers to flourish. Brands have shown interest in influencers who have a range of followers between 10k to 20k, as it gives them better and authentic reach, without spending much.
Influencer marketing has come as a boon, especially for smaller brands because TV and print are costly affairs. Hence, such companies rely on influencers who fit their budget, to target audiences — especially the youth.
Presently, the influencer market is an unregulated sector in India and still in its developing stages, but the kind of money involved is huge and therefore it has become important for ASCI to keep an eye on the space. ASCI believes that as brands and products are being promoted, its regulation would be under ASCI’s purview, even though it is being promoted by an individual.
Now that ASCI regulators will be keeping an eye on the space, do brands need to be cautious when collaborating with influencers?
Brands, such as Pantaloons, Dabur, Liberty and Rangriti agree to the fact that, it is necessary to have a regulation for social media influencers.
“There should be transparency between the brand, influencer and the audience. Influencers should communicate clearly and honestly and properly disclose any commercial relationships they may have with brands,” opines Sanjeev Agrawal, chief executive officer, Rangriti.
When asked about what kind of changes we can expect from brands when such policies will come into effect, Ryan Fernandes, head of marketing and e‐commerce, Pantaloons, believes, “It depends on how influencers work for a particular brand. There could be chances that certain brands go to only popular influencers who have a credibility factor. On the other hand, in a category such as fashion, collaborating with several influencers can work because the brand might want to reach a wider audience.”
Aakriti Sinha, National Head, Social, Isobar points out that bands definitely need to be careful while collaborating. Stating an example she said, "There are many influencers in the health & fitness space promoting and collaborating actively with various brands. There are various claims, tips that they share often. But health itself is a tricky space that one solution doesn’t suit all and the blurring lines might showcase them as “experts” which they are not. The actual solution might always lie with qualified practitioners, but people follow the influencers and their advice looking for answers. I hope and expect these new regulations will make the influencer space more organized and responsible".
Not only India, other geographies are also working on new norms to govern influencer marketing. There have been many recent frauds, which came into the limelight in the global media.
However, social platforms are also doing their bit to let users know whether the post is paid for or not. Last year, Instagram launched the paid partnership tool allowing influencers to mention when a post is created in partnership with a brand. Facebook and Youtube have also introduced paid partnership tags.
Bhuvan Bam, one of the first Indian YouTube content creators and with over 15 million subscribers, doesn't agree with the recent announcement to have guidelines. “The digital medium is censor-free, we shouldn’t bind original content creators with guidelines. Brands come to us to reach audiences because of our content. If there are any guidelines/censorship of sorts then we wouldn't be able to give the optimum reach a brand deserves,” he argues.
Is there a need of regulating the online marketing space and what kind of effect whether positive or negative, we could see?
Eshika Phadke, founder of Inflawence and an influencer marketing lawyer, states that strict prescriptive regulations for online advertising should be kept to a minimum because it would hamper creativity. “ASCI’s system of self-regulation strikes the perfect balance — it does not work on the assumption that the industry practices need to be fully revamped, but simply reiterates good practices and legal requirements that advertisers must comply with, and investigates complaints of alleged violations.”
"In principle, though, I believe that it is a step in the right direction since it will provide some clarity to the industry on what constitutes good practice,” she sums up.