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Social media influencers watch out - Regulatory rules on their way

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Social media influencers will have to make adequate disclosures regarding promotional content to ensure transparency regarding their paid partnerships with brands. Influencers will be required to label and identify paid content as advertisement and won’t be allowed to run them simply as content.

This new regulation is part of the draft guidelines issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the self-regulatory industry body.

It said the disclosures will be mandatory across social media platforms, content types, including both video, images and audio.

The guidelines also require influencers to perform due diligence of technical and performance claims that they make about a product.

Labels should be prominent and upfront

"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,” said Subhash Kamath, chairman, ASCI.

The guidelines say the disclosure label used to highlight advertising content needs to be prominent and 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). It also needs to be appropriate for the channel and suitable for all potential devices (phone, tablet, laptop et al).

Further, 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. 

It is stipulated that blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section will not be considered adequate.

If the advertisement is a picture post such as Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture. For videos 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.

India's influencer market growing rapidly 

This and a few more guidelines were thought up after a collaborative effort with influencers. 

The guidelines have become a necessity as the influencer industry is burgeoning in India. According to industry estimates, India’s influencer market is pegged around $75-$150 million a year. As an industry it has become mainstream within the advertising space. Brands across sectors are associating with influencers to get across their products and services to the general public.

"Influencers are an important part of the advertising ecosystem now. So, they should be aware of the best practices on how to be responsible and protect consumer interest, even as they go about establishing their brands," said Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI.

Consumers have the right to receive honest advertising and know when a certain message is commercial in nature. We are sure that honest influencers feel the need to be responsible and truthful to their followers as well, she added.

To come into effect from April 15

However, as of now it is not clear as to how these rules will be enforced and what kind of penalties will be levied on influencers in the event of them not adhering to the protocols prescribed.

The guidelines for influencers advertising on digital media will be available for all stakeholders, including industry, digital influencers as well as consumers for feedback till March 8, 2021. 

Based on the feedback and inputs, the final guidelines will be issued by ASCI by 31 March. This guideline will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after April 15, 2021.

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