Internet influencers will be required to label their promotional posts and conduct due diligence on the claims made in those posts with effect from June 14, the Advertising Standards Council of India has said in the final guidelines for advertising on digital platforms.
The self-governing body for the Indian advertising space said labeling paid (sponsored) content accurately is critical to ensure transparency and safety of consumers seeing those posts on the internet. If a post is not marked as an advertisement, it becomes difficult for the viewers to differentiate it from regular organic content.
“With lines between content and advertisements becoming blurry, it is critical that consumers must be able to distinguish when something is being promoted with an intention to influence their opinion or behavior for an immediate or eventual commercial gain,” the body said in the guidelines. “Consumers may view promotional messages without realising the commercial intent of these, and that becomes inherently misleading.”
ASCI has emphasized that labeling should be done across all content types (videos, audio, stories, photos, text posts, live streams) on all mediums (blogs, apps, games, video streaming services, social media) and in such a way that it is not missed by the audience.
It is also mandatory in cases where the advertiser had offered something else of value instead of money and not explicitly demanded online promotion. For instance, if the advertiser offered free health products and the influencer happened to mention those freebies in a post/story then that content has to be labelled accordingly.
In order to label content, specific keywords should be used as hashtags such as ad, advertisement, sponsored, collaboration, partnership, free gift, partnership, and employee, ASCI said. The language has to be English or the same as that of the advertisement. The complete details of how, where, and for how long labelling needs to be done across different content types are mentioned in the guidelines.
Meanwhile, the advertisers, on their part, have to ensure that these guidelines are being followed by the influencers. If not, these companies/brands would have to call upon the influencers to delete/edit their sponsored posts as needed.
“With these guidelines, consumers can expect much more transparency as they navigate through the social media universe. These will not only streamline the space and offer a direction but also ensure that there is an added sense of social responsibility amongst the influencer community,” Kunal Kishore Sinha, co-founder and COO of influencer marketing platform ClanConnect, said.
“If influencers want to be followed by their audience, it is necessary for them to stay interesting, honest, creative while managing the art of storytelling to keep consumers engaged. While these new guidelines will promote transparency, it will also elevate the level of trust between customers, influencers and brand,” Sinha added.
It is not clear if these guidelines would also apply to celebrities for whom ASCI has a separate set of guidelines without any clause for labelling posts for disclosure.
Queries sent to ASCI remained unanswered at the time of publishing this article.
If online influencers or brand owners are found in violation of the guidelines, the body could issue a notice against them, the draft version of the guidelines -- published back in February for industry feedback -- stated. The violations could be detected through either customer complaints filed via ASCI’s website or through an AI-powered monitoring tool sourced from French technology firm Reech.
Beyond this, the body has also set up ASCI.Social, a separate website to provide detailed information and FAQs about the guidelines and establish a strong community of creators, advertisers, and marketing agencies adhering to the guidelines.