Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) want influencers to make it clear to viewers if any content is promotional in nature or is branded content.
So, content creators or influencers will have to use disclosure labels like #ad, promo, sponsored for any branded content.
And this could make things tricky for content creators.
Neel Gogia, co-founder, IPLIX Media, an influencer marketing agency explains how.
“If an influencer did a content on different use cases of Amazon Alexa which is a paid association, a brand would like it to go as a content piece because the creator is adding value to the content. Why should such a content be treated like an ad? Every content that goes out, influencer has a narrative that he/she decides. If you treat it like an ad it will have a negative impact both for audience as well as creators.”
Shlok Srivastava who runs a YouTube channel called Tech Burner which has more than five million subscribers pointed out that on YouTube a review cannot be called an advertisement.
“A review is not a positive video. We make sure we give correct image and brands come to us to get the right message out to the audience.”
He added that “there will be an impact in terms of brands coming to influencers because the classification is not appropriate because to classify a piece of content as an ad it has to be produced by the brand. But when an influencer makes content for a brand it is more like a collaborative effort. It is the creator who guides the brand how they can reach the market and how they can put out the product.”
Another aspect that could pose a challenge to an influencer would be making sure every claim a brand makes is correct.
“I feel it is not fair because for example if Samsung tells you that a phone has four times better processing power, a content creator may trust the brand and convey the same to the audience. While in tech it can be measured, what about a shampoo which a brand claims makes hair two times shinier. How do you measure that? So, if this is strictly implemented it will be challenging for an influencer because they can’t argue with brands to prove every point,” said Gogia.
While there are certain challenges with ASCI issuing guidelines for influencers, both Gogia and Srivastava said that it was a much needed thing.
“It was needed because in the last couple of years the boom this space (influencer marketing) has seen has been massive. At the micro level, there have been multiple associations on a monthly basis. Hence, we don’t want a time when audience says that they don’t trust the content offered by influencers. And this could have happened because not every influencer is taking the right step in deciding the kind of brand they want to promote.”
He added that “while the top influencers do these things, many micro influencers who are just growing up, most of them don’t do their research as getting a brand is more of an achievement for them.”
Sagar Pushp, Co-founder, ClanConnect also sees this as a step in the right direction as he thinks the ASCI guidelines will make influencers more responsible.
Pushp thinks this is a timely move for a market which is estimated to have more than doubled year-on-year in terms of topline revenue.
Viraj Sheth, Co-Founder and CEO, Monk Entertainment said that "it was long pending that the Indian influencer marketing industry followed suit and implemented a framework similar to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) guidelines in the West."
Gautam Madhavan, founder, Mad Influence, an influence marketing platform which was also part of the review board when the ASCI guidelines were being made, said that the guidelines makes a strong statement for influencers and agencies that there is a positive market which will grow in the future.
He added that ASCI’s objective to come up with the guidelines for influencers was to protect the interest of the consumers.
Prabhakar Tiwari, Chief Marketing Officer, Angel Broking Ltd, pointed out that though influencers are increasingly becoming critical for a customer's purchase decision, there wasn't any obligation so far to reveal the nature of such engagements.
He also said that now it will be crucial for influencer marketing platforms to communicate about the guidelines to influencers.
Gogia said that this will be an entirely new thing for many influencers. “We will work on how content is conveyed like a paid sponsorship. For example, if Head & Shoulders reaches out to me, we will get the creators use the product for two weeks and if they like the product they will put out content. We will have to make sure that influencer genuinely likes the product and this way the engagement is not impacted.”
Srivastava added that “if a creator says the content is sponsored and does not give authentic information then engagement will come down.” Hence he thinks it will be tricky initially for influencers but adhering to the guidelines will help increase audience trust, he added.
Nikunj Lotia also known as BeYouNick, digital content creator said that while it’s a great starting point, digital content creators have their own format of content. "Some do travel, some practice a skill, some entertain, brands are often involved in specific parts of the content instead of the content at its entirety. It can get confusing/misleading for the audience there. For example, If I was wearing a jacket bartered with a brand on my road trip where I perform, my performance isn’t really a brand partnership."
Another influencer and content creator Aadil Khan who has 1.73 million subscribers on YouTube is not too worried about the guidelines by ASCI. He thinks it is good for consumers and won’t hamper his creativity or his engagement with the audience.
However, not every influencer is as confident as Khan as a lot is going to change for influencers in the coming months with ASCI issuing final guidelines by March 31 this year, making the guidelines applicable to all promotional posts published on or after April 15.