Ad regulator Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) wants influencers to make proper disclosures about branded content in their messages, but top celebrities do not seem to be paying much attention.
This is because cricketer Virat Kohli recently posted on social media platforms including Instagram and Twitter that “a record 10 percent of Indian Olympians are from Lovely Professional University. I hope LPU will send students to the Indian Cricket team also.”
The post looked like sponsored content with Kohli tagging @LPUUniversity, but it had no disclosure.
ASCI’s guidelines which came into effect from June 14 this year say content creators or influencers will have to use disclosure labels like #ad, promo, sponsored for any branded content.
So, does that mean Kohli has flouted the guidelines?
“This will be ascertained once we hear back from the advertiser and the influencer,” Manisha Kapoor, Secretary-General, ASCI, told Moneycontrol.
“ASCI will check with the advertiser and influencer if there is any material connection which could impact the weight or credibility of the said representation made by the influencer,” she added.
While the ad regulator is still looking for clarity on Kohli's post, social media was flooded with comments calling it sponsored content and that the cricketer should have made disclosures.
According to Pranav Panpalia, Founder, OpraahFx, an influencer-marketing platform, while celebrities would follow the guidelines, they are far away from knowing about ASCI.
"I am not sure if the ASCI information has reached the celebrities. They do have a tough task. As long as it is not government-led or there are proper restrictions even if there is mass awareness, influencers may go blind on the guidelines," he said.
In the case of Kohli and his LPU post, there could be this reasoning that the information around ASCI guidelines never reached him, added Panpalia.
This again highlights the point that there is still less clarity in terms of following the guidelines.
In a Twitter Spaces discussion, digital content creator Tarini Shah said that it (the guidelines) has not been enforced completely.
“The guidelines are not being followed in full force. Brands haven't started following it. It is confusing to know which creator is following it and how it is working out for them,” she said.
Pulkit Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Trell, said, “Top influencers and celebrities are disclosing it because they are too large.”
Kohli, who has 43 million followers on Twitter and 139 million on Instagram, is one of the biggest celebrity influencers, may have less clarity about the new guidelines on paid promotions.
“The ASCI guidelines are tough to comprehend. You’ll have many who will flout, while most may want to play in the grey area,” said Sahil Chopra, Founder & CEO- iCubesWire.
On grey areas, Moneycontrol asked ASCI's Kapoor what if there's no material connection between Kohli and the advertiser. “If there is no material connection, then no disclosure is required,” she said.
On this Panpalia said that globally when a celebrity organically wants to push out something they either in comments or in the post mention that it is not a paid post.
However, in India there is little awareness in terms of guidelines for social media content.
In fact, Panpalia had earlier said that only 20 percent of the entire influencer community was currently following the guidelines, possibly because of lack of awareness.
Trell's Agarwal said that along with influencers, brands have been hesitant to add disclosures.When it comes to implementation of the guidelines, Chopra noted that "this still has a long way to go. There have been few incidents in the last few months which have led to controversies, and it gets out of place when influencers start influencing on subjects that aren’t their expertise either."