A chat with ASCI’s secretary-general on the body’s draft guidelines for social media influencers.
“People consume content and advertisements differently,” says Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general, Advertising Standards Council of India, a self-regulatory organisation of the advertising industry in India.
She was talking to us (afaqs!) about the new guidelines ASCI had developed for social media influencers and how they need to disclose whether a post or video they put up must be clear if it’s an advertisement or not.
Subhash Kamath, chairman, ASCI, said: “The digital space is vast. However, promotional content is often indistinguishable from regular posts. Consumers have the right to easily recognise promotional content. The guidelines will help consumers identify promotional content and also guide digital influencers. We look forward to feedback from industry stakeholders, including more influencers, which would help us make the digital space more responsible for all.”
It’s an interesting development and so we got on a chat with Kapoor to understand what went behind these guidelines.
What’s the need to come up with these guidelines in the first place?
A lot of ads are being consumed on digital media and their rate of consumption is not just high in metro areas but in smaller towns and rural areas too.
The peculiarity of digital media, social media in particular is that the line between content and advertisement gets blurry; you don’t know if what you have seen is content or an advertisement.
If you look at newspapers, sometimes an advertisement would appear as part of the editorial content but the newspaper needs to mention it’s an advert at the side. Why? Because the consumer must know what they are seeing is an ad as they consume content and ads in different ways.
It’s estimated that 1 to 5 lakh influencers are already kind of talking to brands then how do we ensure posts or videos where they talk about a product is an advertisement or note. That is the prime reason for the guidelines… If you don’t know it is an advertisement, you are consuming it in a manner that is misleading for you as a consumer.
What we are asking influencers to do is disclose that a particular post/video they are uploading, amongst the various others they are doing, is an advertisement.
But social media platforms (eg: Instagram) do let you disclose whether a post is sponsored or not…
Yes, there are some platforms on which such features (sponsored post) exists and on some where it does not. But, it’s not done efficiently. If someone puts a hashtag #SPON, are consumers supposed to decide what it means? We need to make this easier for people… They (influencers) don’t have to do something dramatic, all they have to do is disclose whether the content they upload is an ad or not before the consumer interacts with it.
When you watch something on TV, you know it’s an ad or not… You should not have to engage with it and then find out it’s an ad. Given the trust people have in influencers, they should make sure to not mislead their audiences. A big part of our guidelines has to do with disclosures, who are to disclose, how it supposed to be disclosed...
Tell us about the disclaimers
We want the disclosures to be upfront and prominent so that consumers can understand what they’re going to see is an advertisement.
We have a list of five labels that can be used and can be periodically monitored. We don’t want to leave it completely to brands and influencers to decide their labels because consumers need to know what a label means.
What is the mechanism that comes into play if an influencer flouts the guidelines?
The mechanism remains the same for any complaint we received regarding an advertisement. We communicate to both the influencer and advertiser saying this particular which has come out is not as per ASCI guidelines so they are either expected to withdraw it or modify it.
How’re you keeping track of all these influencers?
We’re already monitoring around 3000 digital platforms and we will continue to do so. Right now, we attempt to educate influencers on their need to be responsible and the other is to educate anyone involved in the making of the ads on the sense of responsibility. A lot of the influencers are young so the idea is no really to trap them or their creativity but to inform and educate them so that the industry as a whole becomes more responsible as it evolves. Of course, we will look at consumer complaints as we always do.
From alcohol to in-game advertising, is this becoming the case of too many guidelines?
We have four fundamental areas. First says advertising shouldn’t be misleading. The second is about harmful situations (promoting something harmful). The third is about being objectionable or causing widespread offence. The fourth is about being fair to the competition. These guidelines aren’t outside the initial scope for ASCI but interpret the guidelines for a particular sector and industry.
In an email from ASCI, we were given further details about these draft guidelines:
Draft Guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media
1) Advertisements must be obviously distinguishable by the average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content, to prevent the audience from being confused between the two. Therefore, a disclosure label must be added from the list of approved labels.
Only permitted disclosure labels will be considered as adequate as consumers may not be familiar with various creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may wish to convey that the said communication is an advertisement. Examples of such advertisements could be paid music promotion in a video, promoting a store or a brand through a post on the influencers media handle
2) The disclosure label used to highlight advertising content needs to be upfront (within the first two lines of any given platform, such that a consumer need not click on see more or have to scroll under the fold), prominent (so people don't miss it), appropriate for the channel (what can you see and when) and suitable for all potential devices (it needs to be visible regardless of the device used, or platform such as website or app etc.).
3) The disclosure label must be in English or translated into the language of the advertisement in a way that it is well understood by the average consumer who is viewing the advertisement.
4) Blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section will not be considered adequate because people visiting the site might read individual reviews or watch individual videos without seeing the disclosure on another page
5) If the advertisement is only a picture post such as Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture and it should be ensured that the average consumer is able to see it clearly.
6) In the case of video not accompanied by a text post, the disclosure label should be superimposed on the video in a manner that is easily visible to the viewer. For videos that last 15 seconds or lesser, the disclosure label must stay for a minimum of 2 seconds. For videos longer than 15 seconds, but less than 2 minutes, the disclosure label stays for 1/3rd the length of the video.
For videos which are 2 minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features, benefits etc are mentioned. In live streams, the disclosure label should be placed periodically, for 5 seconds at the end of every minute so that users who see part of the stream can see the disclosure.
7) In the case of audio media, the disclosure label must be clearly announced at the beginning and at the end of the audio.
8) Filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making- eg. makes hair shinier, teeth whiter etc.
9) The influencer must do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them such as 2X better, effect lasts for 1 month, fastest speed, best in class etc. Evidence of due diligence would include correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.
10) It is recommended that the contractual agreement between advertiser and influencer carries clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters as well as due diligence.
ASCI also teamed up with BigBang.Social, a leading marketplace for social storytelling, to get India’s leading digital influencers’ views on board.
Ready Reckoner for Social Media Platforms
1. Instagram: Disclosure label to be included in the title above the photo/beginning of the text that shows. If only the image is seen, the image itself must include the label
2. Facebook: Include the disclosure label in the title of the entry or post. If only the image/video is seen, the image/video itself must include the label eg FB story
3. Twitter: Include the disclosure label or tag at the beginning of the body of the message as a tag
4. Pinterest: Include the disclosure label at the beginning of the message.
5. YouTube and other video platforms: Include the label in the title / description of the post.
6. Vlog: Overlay the disclosure label while talking about the product or service
7. Snapchat: Include the disclosure label in the body of the message in the beginning as a tag.
8. Blog: Include the disclosure label in the title of the post.
You can read more about these guidelines here: