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Social Media Influencers get a new set of guidelines from Consumer Affairs Ministry

The ministry will regulate the advertisements posted by influencers on social media platforms without disclosing their affiliation to the respective brands.

The Consumer Affairs Ministry has now released the endorsement criteria and know-hows for social media influencers, including celebrities, influencers, and virtual influencers.

The size of the social influencer market in India was estimated to be Rs 1275 crore in 2022 and is anticipated to increase to Rs 2800 crore by 2025 at a CAGR of over 19–20%, according to Rohit Kumar Singh, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of CA, Food and Public Distribution, who spoke at a press conference on the launch of the guidelines.

The rules provide a framework for how social media influencers should conduct themselves in relation to customers in light of the fact that influencers need to behave responsibly.

The Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements were also published earlier in June of last year by the Central Authority for Consumer Protection (CCPA).

Speaking at the conference, Nidhi Khare, Additional Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, said that for an advertisement to be considered "legal," it must be true and honest, and it cannot deceive the public.

"If there is a significant difference in informed or scientific opinion regarding such claims, it should not present rights granted to consumers by law as a distinctive characteristic of the advertiser's offer or imply that the claims made in it are generally accepted," she continued.

However, as part of the new guidelines, all people or organisations who have access to an audience and the ability to influence their audiences' purchasing decisions or opinions about a product, service, brand, or experience as a result of their authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their audience, should make disclosures in both audio and video formats in addition to using platform disclosure tools.

Virtual influencers, who are fictional computer-generated "people" or avatars with realistic features, personalities, and characteristics of humans, would also be required to disclose their relationships with advertisers under the new guidelines because it could affect the weight or credibility of the claims they make.

According to the rules, this material relationship can take the shape of advantages and incentives including cash payments, free gifts, giveaways, competitions, travel, hotel stays, media barters, honoraria, employment, etc.

Regarding how influencers or celebrities can disclose, Khare emphasised that the general rule for disclosures is that they should be difficult to miss, be made in a way that they are obvious and conspicuous, and not intermingled with a bunch of hashtags or links.

"In the event of a photograph, the endorsement disclosure should be superimposed over the picture to make it visible to the viewers. It ought to be shown in videos, not only referenced in the description. On platforms with limited space, the disclosure should, nonetheless be simple and clear,” the guidelines mentioned.

"If the endorser violates the guidelines again, the CCPA may impose a fine of up to Rs. 50 lakhs in addition to a fine of Rs. 10 lakhs. If an endorser is repeatedly discovered to be breaking the rules, we may also order them to stop endorsing goods or services for a period of six months to two years," she continued.

Additionally, the new guidelines advise endorsers to actually try the product or service before releasing their endorsement and review and ensure that the advertiser is able to support the claims made in its advertisement.

Manisha Kapoor, CEO & Secretary General, ASCI said: "ASCI welcomes the endorser guidelines issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. We are happy to note that they are aligned with ASCI’s influencer guidelines,  2021. Influencer violations comprise almost 30% of ads taken up by ASCI, hence this legal backing for disclosure requirements is a welcome step. The Ministry had been in touch with ASCI to review the various global guidelines on influencers."

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