One particular post on a rather famous online community was getting several comments praising a hair oil. This was in response to a member’s question on how to tackle hair fall. The member was happy with the responses and promptly went ahead and placed an order for the oil. About a month later, she posted yet again describing how terrible the oil turned out to be. She felt cheated and asked why the other members had praised the product so much.
A little probing was all it took to find out that several of the posts on that thread were made by social media influencers who were, in fact, beneficiaries of the company and many of whom had not even bought or tried the product themselves. This is just one case where swayed by social media influencers, an unsuspecting customer went ahead and made a purchase.
In a bid to streamline online advertising that many social media influencers indulge in, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media platforms. The regulatory body is inviting the public to send in recommendations, suggestions, ideas, on or before 8 March 2021 on these guidelines.
Anupriya Kapur, a social media influencer from Gurugram with a 1.4 lakh follower base on Instagram, says, “This is a much-needed move, given how rapidly this space is growing. Some of the guidelines I particularly want to applaud are the non-usage of filters in the pictures and ensuring that influencers do their own due diligence before signing on a brand.”
She also adds that as someone who has been a part of the space for long, she has made some mistakes herself and signed on brands that she later felt did not sit well with her own personal ethos.
“This will now force influencers to think about which brands they sign on and how they represent them,” she says.
Speaking to The Better India, Manisha Kapoor, Secretary-General, ASCI, said, “While these are draft guidelines and we are inviting the public to send in their recommendations and suggestions, we are confident of retaining the guidelines in spirit.” She also mentions that one of the significant changes that these guidelines is acknowledging is the power that social media influencers have. As a consumer, it is a matter of right to know when you are being sold something, or are viewing an advertisement and the guidelines will make that distinction.
“At the heart of the guidelines is for consumers to know that an advertisement is just that,” she adds. It then helps make the consumer take an informed decision of whether or not they wish to by the product or service. The guidelines require influencers to disclose that the communication they are putting out is an advertisement.
The guidelines apply to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and other video platforms, vlogs, Snapchat and blogs.
Speaking about the social media platforms, she says, “We have had representations from various platforms and many of them were also part of the task force that came up with these guidelines,” she says.
Draft Guidelines for social media influencer advertising on digital media
1) Any advertisement that is displayed must be easily distinguishable. A disclosure label must be added from the list of approved labels.
2) The disclosure label used to highlight advertising content needs to be upfront.
3) The disclosure label must be in English or translated into the language of the advertisement in a way that it is well understood by anyone who is viewing the advertisement.
4) Blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section will not be considered adequate.
5) If the advertisement is only a picture post, such as Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture.
6) In the case of video not accompanied by a text post, the disclosure label should be superimposed on the video.
7) In the case of audio media, the disclosure label must be clearly announced at the beginning and at the end of the audio.
8) Filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making such as ‘makes hair shinier’, ‘teeth whiter’, etc.
9) The influencer must do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them such as 2X better, effect lasts for 1 month, fastest speed, best in class etc.
10) It is recommended that the contractual agreement between advertiser and influencer carries clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters as well as due diligence.
How can a consumer lodge a complaint?
ASCI’s main role is to prevent misleading advertisements. In this endeavour, there is a central WhatsApp number accessible to everyone in the country, where complaints can be lodged. Other than this, the following ways can be used to reach ASCI.
- A letter addressed to The Secretary General, the Advertising Standards Council of India, 219 Bombay Market, Tardeo, Mumbai 400 034 can be sent in.
- Log into ASCI’s website and register a complaint. There is a form available, which needs to be filled out with relevant details. Once done, a tracking number will be provided to help keep tab of the case progress.
- You can call on 022 23513982 or 022 23521066 or 1-800-22 –2724 (toll free) as well to lodge your complaint.
- You could also send your complaint to +91 77100 12345, which is available on WhatsApp.
- If the complaint is complete, the decision will be taken by ASCI’s Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) within an approximate period of a month.
Manisha adds that in 2020, through various channels, ASCI processed more than 7,700 complaints. If you wish to access the social media influencer draft guideline, click here. Suggestions and recommendations to the guidelines can be sent to email@example.com on or before 8 March 2021.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)