Ubaid Zargar
Points of View

Is it time to monitor influencer advertising like TVCs?

Influencers often flaunt their new purchases in front of their audiences, and many times, the promotions are paid - while the audience is unaware. In the absence of proper regulation and monitoring, such cases have often been overlooked. Which begs the question, is it time to monitor influencer advertising like TVCs? Here is what industry experts think.

Influencer advertisement and marketing has grown manifold over the past decade or two, all thanks to the staggering growth of the digital space. This has consequently given brands a new way of engaging or reaching out to the audience – by banking heavily on new age digital stars.

Popular influencers promoting certain brands through their social media handles are a common sight. But what has often been overlooked is the credibility of these promotions. Truth be told, many influencers have promoted brands, all the while hiding their partnership from the audience. People who are oblivious to these behind-the-scene associations, tend to trust the feedback influencers give, and are hence misled.

You might have come across popular vloggers who incorporate certain brand products, say a face-wash, in their daily routine. And with no reason for scepticism, one could very well believe that the product is just a part of the influencer's lifestyle – a rookie mistake. There is no telling what is an advertisement and what isn't. In the absence of proper regulations and monitoring, it is conceivable that many such promotions are fueled by the sheer lure of lucre.

However, with new regulations in place under the Consumer Protection Act 2019, influencers found guilty of misleading advertisement can face a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh. A repetition of the act can attract a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh.

Not so long ago, Hindi film actors Jackie Shroff and Govinda were fined by a consumer court for misleading advertisements. Both celebrities had featured as endorsers in an advertisement that was later recognised as misleading through exaggeration. While there are certain guidelines and regulations in place for traditional advertisement mediums like Television or Print, the digital space has seen leniency in evaluation.

In addition to consumer courts, TVCs and celebrity endorsements are monitored and evaluated by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self regulatory body. We got in touch with ASCI to understand if the body has any plans to regulate digital advertisements. Rohit Gupta, chairman, ASCI says that the body is working on guidelines for celebrity endorsements for both traditional and digital media. Commenting on the new Consumer Act, and how ASCI is following it, Gupta says, “The Act is still to be enacted into law. ASCI is working very closely with the ministry of Information and Broadcasting to take the lead in this. And therefore, we are formulating guidelines for celebrities, both in the digital and traditional media. So, there will be guidelines to educate these celebrities on the do's and don'ts.”

Emphasising the importance of accountability, Gupta adds, “The influencers need to have a role. They need to make sure that their endorsements are right and hence, hold themselves accountable for it...they need to do their due diligence.”

That said, all of this leads to the pertinent question – is it time to monitor influencer advertising like TVCs? We turned to industry experts to get their points of view.

Amod Dani, executive creative director, Leo Burnett Orchard

Is it time to monitor influencer advertising like TVCs?

I feel advertising has a responsibility towards the consumer. As an industry, it is imperative that we do not create work that in any way misleads the consumer and incorrectly biases her opinions and judgments. Having said so, celebrity advocacy has always been a very convincing voice for brands for some time now. Reputed celebrities are extremely conscious about their own brand image and hence do ‘self-regulate’ when it comes to endorsements (most of the time).

But today, this too has changed. Enter the ‘Influencers’. You can bet your last dollar that today’s marketing mix is incomplete without them. But when it comes to responsible advocacy and actual self-regulation, how certain are we that the ‘Like, subscribe and follow me’ entourage makes the most well-informed choice? There are prominent influencers who do act very responsibly - the honest reviewers, the product testers, the experience narrators and many more. They actually empower the consumer by showing the proof in the pudding. But not all influencers operate in this paradigm. There is a new Influencer popping up every day on social media. And maybe not everyone is truly aware of the influence they have on people. If we are to stay true and remain responsible towards the consumer, then all Celebrities and Influencers will need to be far more prudent and judicious while endorsing. If that self-regulation seems to be lost or is deemed inadequate, then ASCI might really have no other choice.

Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder and director, Elephant Design

Is it time to monitor influencer advertising like TVCs?

I am on the side of the consumer here. It is safe to assume that an influencer garners large follower base because of consistent and aligned content for the kind of audience he/ she is aiming for. If the influencers want to continue getting followed by their audience, it is necessary for them to stay interesting and honest. Influencer marketing has reached a critical mass in India and I believe it is time to have some clear guidelines that protect consumers from being misled.

Guidelines need to ensure three things:

1. Any content where the brand has paid the influencer and has had reasonable control over the content needs to be called out as 'advertisement'.

2. Influencer must make it obvious that the content is an 'advertisement'. There should be a clear indication to the follower that the content has bias.

3. If the influencer is making some specific claims, they should be substantiated and measured with the same yardstick that is used for claims on packaging or claims in TVCs.

Chraneeta Mann, co-founder, The Mob

Is it time to monitor influencer advertising like TVCs?

Well I guess you can have too much of a good thing, and influencer marketing has been on a roll the past few years. From beginning with Celebrity influencers with a big following, we saw the trend begin to lose its sheen and authenticity as consumer engagement dropped. So we hopped to 'more believable micro-influencers' or 'people like me' as the medium to offer brands the authenticity required to sell their products. But just scanning most influencer social feeds will reveal the plethora of brands being promoted by them. Often these brands are inconsistent with each other and sometimes even with the influencers profile. This has increasingly eroded the authenticity of a medium that is actually one of the most relevant marketing mediums in the media mix today. The one off case of an influencer misusing his or her social clout to pull a deal from a brand, or having bot followers has not helped their case.

I think boxing this medium with a set of guidelines was not just expected, but will also help to bring more transparency. A paid promotion tag still fulfills the brand objective of reaching out to a large fan following. You will still have original, engaging content that does not follow a template advertising style. You can still leverage an influencer's quirks and unique style, but maintain your authenticity as a brand as well as that of the influencer, by being honest about a paid promotion. As soon as the influencer in turn admits a paid promotion, he or she too will be more genuine in their review of the product as their own authenticity is at stake.

Mukund Raina, branch head, Delhi, Enormous Brands

Mukund Raina
Mukund Raina

We are now seeing online influencers appearing on television and traditional media as talent and endorsers. So there is very little that separates online influencers from those that were seen as traditional endorsers - as we can also see in the case of the role of Bhuvan Bam for Pizza Hut. Digital as a medium is exploding and will continue to grow, and very clearly the lines will blur. So eventually, there will need to be a system to monitor this - and in the interest of protecting consumers, supervision by the industry body augers well.