Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the country’s self-regulatory voluntary organisation for advertising, has issued a set of draft guidelines that directs that all social media influencers must prominently label content that promotes products and services on digital platforms. The guidelines come at a time when leading brands are gradually leaning more on influencers on social media platforms to advertise their products. The proposals, if finalised, will ensure a strict code of rules each influencer must follow in properly disclosing the nature of their promotional posts to viewers and followers.
The proposed draft guidelines by ASCI are expected to be finalised by March 31 this year, following a round of consultation with digital influencers, industry stakeholders, as well as consumers.
In its guidelines, ASCI directs that all influencers must disclose and label any promotional post, within the first two lines irrespective of the platform. “Advertisements must be obviously distinguishable by the average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content, to prevent the audience from being confused between the two. Therefore, a disclosure label must be added from the list of approved labels,” the body wrote in its proposal.
ASCI has also issued a set of approved labels that must be added in any promotional post. They include #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored, and/ or #partnership. “Only permitted disclosure labels will be considered as adequate as consumers may not be familiar with various creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may wish to convey that the said communication is an advertisement.”
The body also explained why the disclaimer needs to be placed within the first two lines of any post. “The disclosure label used to highlight advertising content needs to be upfront (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), prominent (so people don’t miss it), appropriate for the channel (what can you see and when) and suitable for all potential devices (it needs to be visible regardless of the device used, or platform such as website or app etc.). For better understanding of the viewer, the label should either be in English or translated to “the language of the advertisement.”
In case the promotional post is just a picture (such as Instagram Stories or Snapchat), then the label must be superimposed over the image prominently. If the promotional post is in the form of a video without an accompanying text, the label needs to be superimposed over the video itself. “For videos that last 15 seconds or lesser, the disclosure label must stay for a minimum of two seconds. 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 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 etc are mentioned.”
In case of live streams, the label of disclosure needs to be placed for five seconds at the end of every minute. For audio posts, the label should be announced at the beginning and at the end.
ASCI strictly asks influencers not to add filters to enhance the effect of the advertised products. “Filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making – e.g., makes hair shinier, teeth whiter etc.”
The body also asks influencers to conduct due diligence of the performance claims made by the product, like being best in class, twice better, longer lasting, etc. “Evidence of due diligence would include correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.”
Lastly, ASCI recommends that a contractual agreement must be established between the advertiser and the influencer that “carries clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters as well as due diligence.”
The guidelines recommend that all disclosures should be prominently visible across all promotional posts across all devices, be it phones, tablets, or PCs and across all platforms, from Facebook to Twitter. ASCI said, “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.”
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