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Digital influencers to now disclose if their posts are 'promotional'

India’s influencer market is estimated at $75-$150 million a year.

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NEW DELHI: Starting 15 April, influencers on all digital platforms would be required to prominently display a ‘disclosure label’ on their promotional posts to enable consumers to easily recognise promotional content on digital platforms.

This is part of the detailed draft guidelines released by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) for influencer advertising on digital media. ASCI has invited feedback from all stakeholders, including industry, digital influencers as well as consumers on the guidelines till 8 March. The final guidelines will be issued on 31 March which will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after 15 April.

With a dramatic increase in the number of online users, it is no surprise that brands across sectors are increasingly associating with influencers to get across their marketing messages. As influencer marketing slowly becomes mainstream within the advertising space, it is also filling the space between what’s promotional and what not.

“The lines between advertising and content are blurring. And, promotional content is often indistinguishable from regular posts. Consumers should have the right to easily differentiate between the two before making a choice. These guidelines will not only help consumers but also guide social media influencers to become more responsible,” said ASCI chairman Subhash Kamath.

ASCI teamed up with BigBang.Social, a leading marketplace for social storytelling, to get India’s leading digital influencers’ views on board. “We realised the need for a responsible advertising ecosystem in place for influencers; promoting ethical practices, fair and transparent expression. These guidelines will benefit consumers and the digital influencers,” said BigBang.Social CEO & KWAN founding partner Dhruv Chitgopekar.

The disclosure label, necessitated by the guidelines, will need to be prominently displayed, 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 and suitable for all potential devices. It must be in English or translated into the language of the advertisement in a way that it is well understood by the average consumer.

ASCI has said that blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section will not be considered adequate because people visiting the site might read individual reviews or watch individual videos without seeing the disclosure on another page. “If the advertisement is only a picture post such as Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture and it should be ensured that the average consumer is able to see it clearly,” it stated.

In cases, where the video is 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. For videos which are two minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features, benefits are mentioned.

In live streams, the disclosure label should be placed periodically, for five seconds at the end of every minute so that users who see part of the stream can see the disclosure. In the case of audio media, the disclosure label must be clearly announced at the beginning and at the end of the audio.

According to the guidelines, filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making, for instance, if it makes hair shinier, teeth whiter etc. The ASCI said that the influencers must also do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them. This includes correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.

According to ASCI’s Trust in Advertising Report, released last December, viewership of ads on digital platforms is roughly around 82 per cent in both the rural and metro areas.

Ready reckoner for social media platforms:

1. Instagram: Disclosure label to be included in the title above the photo/beginning of the text that shows. If only the image is seen, the image itself must include the label

2. Facebook: Include the disclosure label in the title of the entry or post. If only the image/video is seen, the image/video itself must include the label eg FB story

3. Twitter: Include the disclosure label or tag at the beginning of the body of the message as a tag

4. Pinterest: Include the disclosure label at the beginning of the message.

5. YouTube and other video platforms: Include the label in the title / description of the post.

6. Vlog: Overlay the disclosure label while talking about the product or service

7. Snapchat: Include the disclosure label in the body of the message in the beginning as a tag.

8. Blog: Include the disclosure label in the title of the post.

India’s decision to introduce guidelines for influencer marketing comes a little late in the dame, as most developed and developing nations have already issued advertising standards and codes to govern this increasingly popular and prevalent mode of marketing. But as they say, better late than never – these draft rules will align the Indian online advertising industry with international markets and also promote transparency in the business in the long run.

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