Guidelines for Influencer Advertising by ASCI
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a self-regulatory and voluntary organization for the advertising industry in India, It aims to ensure that the advertisements released by brands confirm its code for Self-Regulation, which requires advertisements to be legal, decent, honest, and truthful, and not hazardous or harmful while observing fairness in competition. ASCI looks into complaints across all media such as Print, TV, Radio, hoardings, SMS, Emailers, Digital, product packaging, brochures, promotional material, and POS material.
Although ASCI is a non-government and self-regulatory body it plays a major role in addressing the concerns of customer's grievances regarding ads that are misleading and harmful in nature, as a first step its sends notice to the advertiser regarding the misleading claim and asks them to make the necessary changes. The advertiser is expected to revert to the notice in the stipulated time period, If the advertiser fails to respond within the allotted time, the complaint is taken up ex-parte by ASCI's independent Consumer Complaints Council. Ads that violate the ASCI code cannot be permitted on TV, according to Cable TV Network Rules’ Advertising Code.
ASCI has recently issued guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media, and these guidelines shall be applicable for posts published on or after 14th June 2021. The guidelines have been issued to protect the interest of the consumers, to make them aware of the commercial intent, and help them see par through the blur lines between truthful content and advertisements made to promote for commercial gain. In absence of this, the consumers are likely to be misled and there may be an abuse of trust and exploitation due to their lack of knowledge or experience.
ASCI has defined the following terms under its guidelines:
Influencer: An Influencer is someone who has access to an audience and the power to affect their audiences’ purchasing decisions or opinions about a product, service, brand or experience, because of the influencer’s authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their audience
Virtual Influencer: Virtual influencers, are fictional computer-generated ‘people’ or avatars who have the realistic characteristics, features, and personalities of humans, and behave similarly as influencers.
Material connection: A material connection is any connection between an advertiser and influencer that may affect the weight or credibility of the representation made by the influencer. A material connection could include but is not limited to benefits and incentives, such as monetary or other compensation, free products with or without any conditions attached including those received unsolicited, discounts, gifts, contest and sweepstakes entries, trips or hotel stays media barters, coverage, awards or any family or employment relationship, etc.
Digital Media: It is defined as a means of communication that can be transmitted over the internet or digital networks and includes communication received, stored, transmitted, edited, or processed by a digital media platform. Digital Media includes but is not limited to sponsored posts, branded content, promotional blogs, paid-for links, gamification, in-game advertising, teasers, viral advertising, augmented reality, native advertising, connected devices, influencer. On-demand video platforms including subscription, pay-per-view, free video, and others. Mobile Broadcast, Digital TV, Digital Delivery Home Entertainment, Non-standard television, Digital terrestrial television, and others.
Guidelines for Posting on Digital Platforms:
All advertisements posted by social media influencers or their representatives must post a disclosure label on such posts to clearly indicate that it is an advertisement. The guidelines mandate the social media influencers or their representatives to post a disclosure label if:
There is any material connection between the advertiser and the influencer.
Any evaluations are made by an influencer, even if unbiased and fully originated as long as there is a material connection with the advertiser, disclosure is mandatory.
Any free products, services, or other perks are offered to the influencer, and the influencer talks about such products or services, even if they were not specifically asked by the advertiser to do so.
In absence of any material connection, the influencer likes any product or service that they bought and communicates about it to the audience, it will not be considered as an advertisement and no disclosure is required.
Display of Disclosure:
The disclosures should be made in an easily understandable way to the consumers should be in either English or the language of the advertisement. Disclosures can be labeled as an advertisement, ad, sponsored, collaboration, partnership, employee, gift.
Disclosures should be posted in such a way, that they are hard to be missed by an average consumer and should not be buried in a group of hashtags or links. The influencer should also post their own disclaimer apart from using the platform’s disclosure tool.
In case of advertisement of a picture or a video without any text included such as Instagram or Snapchat stories, the disclosure should be superimposed on the picture/video to be clearly visible to the consumer.
Timeline for posting disclosure have also been mentioned in the guidelines which are as follows:
For videos of 15 seconds or lesser time, the disclosure label should be put up for a minimum of 3 seconds.
For videos longer than 15 seconds, but less than 2 minutes, the disclosure should be put up for 1/3rd of the length of the video.
For videos that are 2 minutes or longer, the disclosure label should be visible during the entire duration, when the promoted brand or its features and benefits are mentioned.
In the case of live streams, the disclosure label should be announced at the beginning and end of the broadcast, and if the post continues to be visible after the Livestream, appropriate disclosure must be added to the caption.
Responsibility is imposed on both the influencer and the advertiser to disclose their material connection. The advertiser has to ensure that the advertisement is in coherence with the ASCI code and guidelines, while the influencer shall be responsible for making disclosures required under the guidelines.
The Advertiser when needed, can call upon the influencer to delete or edit any advertisement or the disclosure label to adhere to the ASCI code and guidelines. The influencers are advised to do due diligence by reviewing and satisfying themselves that the product holds true to its claims, as advertised by the advertiser.
Non-Compliance of Guidelines: As ASCI is a non-government body, few entities may choose to neglect the guidelines passed by ASCI, but consequently, a fine of up to Ten Lakh Rupees and imprisonment for a term up to 3 years may be imposed under section 21 of the Consumer Protection Act,2019 for false and misleading advertisements.