ASCI’s disclosure norms for influencer-promotions will help ‘followers’ tell a paid promotion from a genuine one

Thus, the Advertising Standards Council of India has done well to prescribe rules on the labelling of such ads or promotions in online content.

More often than not, celebrity endorsement of a product has a multi-lakh, if not multi-crore, deal behind it, though the endorsement of charities, government endorsement, causes, etc, may be done out of public mindedness. But, with the rise of social media, the ‘influencer’ phenomenon has grown, and whether there is commerce behind the leveraging of one’s social (media) capital for a product/firm is something that has stayed hidden from the masses.

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Merit or money, what made X on YouTube with so-many-million subscribers or Y on Instagram with so-many-million followers promote, say, brand M wallpaper—you are left wondering. The issue becomes more problematic in the case of product reviewers; in the absence of disclosures, they can push the sales of any product online by giving it good reviews. Thus, the Advertising Standards Council of India has done well to prescribe rules on the labelling of such ads or promotions in online content.

The draft rules comprehensively outline disclosure norms for ‘material connections’ that a promotion may have. A “material connection or payment” has been defined as free products including those received unsolicited, direct monetary exchange, trips or hotel stays, media barters, coverage, awards, with the expectation—explicit or implied—that a promotion or inclusion of the advertiser’s products in a post occurs immediately or eventually.” More important, the ASCI rules are not limited to just influencers but apply to all media owners and digital media companies.

The rules also state influencers can only use the five labels—#ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored and #partnership—to distinguish such promotion, and lay down how they are to be displayed. While these will have to be visible on an Instagram photo post, for short videos (below 15 seconds), they should be shown for a minimum of two seconds. The guidelines state that “for videos longer than 15 seconds, but less than two minutes, the disclosure label stays for 1/3rd the length of the video. For videos which are 2 minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features, benefits, etc, are mentioned…” . From use of ‘filters’ to verifying a company’s claims, rigorous regulation will not only help the viewer discern paid content from a genuine review or promotion but it will also help get an idea of the particulars of the influencer economy.

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