Ananya Pathak
Points of View

How will ASCI’s new rulebook for influencers change the game for social media agencies?

The new guidelines require influencers to make sure they declare, beyond doubt, which content is branded. Here is a peek through the agency lens…

Who’s your favourite social media influencer? Let’s say it’s ‘B’. As per B’s latest Instagram Reel, she loves the face cream by this newly launched skincare brand. It suits her skin so much that she can’t go a day without it. She carries it almost everywhere in her bag. But wasn’t she vouching for another brand’s face cream just last month? The one she uses every time she steps out? The one that keeps her skin fresh all day long?

If only it was clearer that both her posts, where she is posing with the fancy cream bottles, were ads for the respective brands. In her defence, she used the ‘sponsored’ hashtag right after the three para description of the product ingredients in the caption. Wouldn’t you have consumed the content differently if you knew it wasn’t authentic, but a paid post?

To highlight this blurry line between a post being authentic or paid, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released new guidelines for social media influencers. The influencers will now have to disclose whether the content they have uploaded on social media is an ad or not before the consumer interacts with it.

The guidelines will also have an impact on the social media agencies handling these influencers.

So, how will the new rulebook change the lives of these agency folks? Here’s what the heads of some social media agencies have to say…

Edited excerpts:

Ramya Ramachandran, founder & CEO, Whoppl – a Mumbai-based influencer marketing agency
The recent ASCI regulation is the need of the hour, since many brands in the beauty and skincare industry refrain from fully disclosing their association with the influencers for their respective reasons. The new rule will not only ensure transparency on all fronts, but also compel the agencies – along with the influencers – to come up with content that is more authentic, creative and well-thought out. It will ensure that they resonate well with the brand ethos and campaign objectives. This will enable us to push our creative boundaries to come up with influencer campaigns that are fully transparent, verified and much more thought-provoking in their creative space.

Ramya Ramachandran
Ramya Ramachandran

Having said that, we do feel that the new regulation has opened up a few grey areas. For instance, how do we account for influencer collaborations that are not ‘paid’ per se. as they could be in the form of giveaways, luxury holidays or gifted experiences in exchange of content and deliverables.

However, we are sure that these uncertain spaces will be clarified eventually and we all will be able to adopt this new, and a much-needed, change.

Ritesh Ujjwal, CEO, Kofluence – a platform that connects brands to social media influencers

We consider ASCI’s new guidelines as the right step towards conscious and responsible user generated-led content advertising. There are only a handful of social media users who can distinguish between paid influencer content and the regular content by influencers. Using this to their benefit, the influencers are promoting brands in exchange for a fee – left, right and centre.

Ritesh Ujjwal
Ritesh Ujjwal

This step towards establishing guidelines will help diminish the very blur line, and create a strong distinction between paid and organic content. How much of this gets implemented at the grassroots level is a question. The volume of content is just so high and the awareness is so low, that most of it will get unnoticed.

If you ask me about how an agency’s life will change after this, we will have to have stricter internal guidelines for what goes out to the influencers. It will become our responsibility to educate both the brands and the influencers to follow the guidelines.

The brands may get less out of influencer campaigns then what they got before, say, if it becomes a mandate to write "promotion" in the influencer content. However, the brands will be able to adapt to this easily. It is the influencers – large in count – who may turn out to be a challenge.

Nevertheless, as industry stakeholders, we will have to follow the guidelines set by a respectful body of the industry.

Kunal Kishore Sinha, co-founder, ClanConnect – a data-driven AI-based influencer marketing platform for agencies

The new development will have a long-term impact on the influencer marketing space and play a critical role in further shaping this fast-growing industry. Adhering to the ASCI guidelines will now be the foremost priority of every influencer, whether established or novice. As for influencer management platforms, this will expand the ambit of our relationship with the influencers by a great margin.

Kunal Kishore Sinha
Kunal Kishore Sinha

Overall, the guidelines are a positive move for organised and structured platforms, such as ours, as they will act as a catalyst towards a streamlined, transparent and accountable digital advertising ecosystem.

Aarushi Sethi, director, Pollen - a full-service influencer marketing agency

I am extremely happy about the new ASCI guidelines as it has brought influencer marketing to the forefront. The strict guidelines are an indication of the value add this medium is creating.

Aarushi Sethi
Aarushi Sethi

The guidelines will ensure that brands

(i) view influencers from the lens of fostering long term relationships and not just for one-off tactical campaigns;

(ii) invest in the right influencers (not just the biggest) who will actually use their product for longer duration;

(ii) view influencers as brand advocates and not media vehicles for reach

From an Influencer’s perspective, the guidelines will allow for more accountability and innovation in the creation of branded content, thereby aiding their own credibility. As talent representatives, the need to call out sponsored posts will encourage us to innovate and push the content boundaries to ensure even branded content drives engagement amongst audiences.

Viraj Sheth, co-founder and CEO, Monk Entertainment – a Mumbai-based 360-degree creative digital media organization

Honestly, it doesn't change our lives too much. The creators have usually been fine with disclosing their partnerships with the brands. The reason they've been able to build such a strong relationship with their audiences is because of trust and transparency.

Viraj Sheth
Viraj Sheth

The audiences are also extremely smart and know when a creator is endorsing a certain brand. These guidelines just make it official and binding for the creators and the brands to reveal the nature of their partnerships. I believe that in the long run, this is only going to help the ecosystem and all the parties involved.