The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) recently unveiled its 'Wielding Influence, Nurturing Trust' report. The report, which touched upon how in India, influencer marketing still constituted a very small fraction of the overall marketing budget, discussed the new definition of trust – ‘Trust 2.0’, and the role of influencer marketing agencies.
The report also explored the world of social media platforms, how they rose to popularity in the country, and how some of them went the influencer marketing and brand sponsorships route.
Storyboard18 spoke with Manisha Kapoor, chief executive officer and secretary general of The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) where she discussed her expectations from the report, plagiarism in advertising, steps ASCI takes after repeated warnings to violators and much more.
What are your expectations from the 'Wielding Influence, Nurturing Trust' report?
The report is a goldmine of insights and useful information for a person whether he or she is an advertiser, brand owner, influencer or an influencer agency. It lays down the definition of Trust 2.0, and the new opportunities to engage between brands and influencers.
Brands tend to look at influencers only through the matter of size, be it mega influencers or nano influencers. There is so much more to this. The report helps identify certain archetypes which could be useful for brands to think about in their campaigns. We also feel that influencers don’t have to only be used as last-mile communicators. Influencers are themselves a goldmine of insights on product development. It would be very useful for brands to get their Research and Development (R&D) team in touch with influencers. Here, they can talk to each other about product gaps and what consumers actually want.
Therefore, we feel this is just the beginning of that relationship. There are a lot more opportunities for it to become deeper and impact a much greater part of the marketing value chain than just the last-mile communication.
What are the main guidelines social media influencers miss during endorsements which lead to complaints?
First is disclosure, which is the biggest miss. It is the simple fact that they have to disclose that a particular piece of content they are putting out is an advertisement. There are several ways for them to do this. They could use the platform disclosure tool (by ASCI), and make use of hashtags out of the list of acceptable hashtags we put out. They need to highlight it in a way which cannot be missed and is not buried under too many hashtags.
I must also add that we are seeing a lot of influencers understanding the seriousness of disclosures. If you are in a space where you put out commercial content, you have to be aware of the regulations or laws that surround the work you are doing.
Second is the influencers doing due diligence on what advice or claims they are making, and whether they are capable of substantiation. How that gets balanced out is another important miss we are seeing among them.
In case certain guidelines are not followed by the influencers, what are the precautionary steps the audience must keep in mind before they decide to purchase a product?
One of the things that will correct violators is the trust of the audience. In the short term, some people could get misled due to the misleading content put out. In the long term, I am not of the opinion that any brand or any influencer could survive without remaining honest to their followers or the audience they cater to. If consumers stop trusting, whatever messages brands or influencers put out, that will go completely ignored.
ASCI has guidelines in place for social media influencers, celebrities in advertising, disclaimers, and various others. Yet, violations of guidelines continue to happen. In such scenarios, what are the steps ASCI takes, and should consider which would not go unattended?
In an ideal world, no one would do anything wrong. Unfortunately, we are not in a utopian setting. For people who commit mistakes out of ignorance, regulatory bodies like ASCI will be there to pull them up. Next time, there is a hope that they will make the corrections when they come up with advertisements.
But there are cases where violations are done willfully. For those violators, it is the strength of the law that must come in. ASCI looks at voluntary compliance. We are not a statutory body. It is not in our mandate to punish someone, levy a fine on an advertiser or ban any particular kind of advertisement. That is the responsibility of the government.
Like how Rohit Kumar Singh, secretary, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, said today in the opening remark of the event, "The first vote of call should be self-regulation.” If the industry can self-regulate itself, it is the best solution. ASCI has a voluntary compliance rate of around 95 percent. It is the five percent who are non-compliant. This is after they have been informed about the mistakes they have committed, don’t wish to make the change and want to continue with how they have been doing so far.
We provide information about such violators, be it companies, brands or influencers to legal authorities like the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), if it’s a food ad, etc. This is dependent on which category the violations are happening. In short, we keep the sector regulators informed.
We plan to come up with more guidelines depending upon which sectors more challenges are cropping up. As new categories or concerns around advertising become more prevalent, certainly, ASCI will step in with guidelines. In some cases, through seminars like #GetItRight Brand Influencer Summit 2023, we educate people on the idea and importance of getting it right.
What are your thoughts on plagiarism in advertising by brands? How should social media influencers maintain vigilance before they decide to promote a product or a campaign?
Influencers have to do due diligence for any claim they make in a commercial or a campaign. They need to keep in mind that whatever claims they make, they should not be misleading in nature. On plagiarism, ASCI has a few specific guidelines and clauses, and they are applied to any case which comes before us. We do not get too many cases surrounding plagiarism.
If such cases do come, they will be evaluated against the guidelines, the jury will take a look, listen to arguments on both sides and then make recommendations if some changes are required or not.
What are the challenges that ASCI is trying to fix?
One of the key philosophies ASCI is embracing in a very strong way is ‘#GetItRight’. While we continue to make our corrective measures stronger through artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (MI), and a much more agile and responsive complaint system, our focus would be projected towards how we build awareness for the rules, how we build awareness and create a degree of consciousness in advertisers, marketers, influencers and everyone who is a part of the advertising ecosystem. This is at the time when they are creating the advertisement.
Corrective actions will always have their role but what we want to focus on is preventive actions. Someone who is making an ad, if he or she is aware of the rules, will not violate the rules that will make the ad look problematic. The summits and seminars we conduct and the reports we release are towards the endeavour which is ‘Let’s support people get it right’. The more the people get it right, the better it is for the industry and very good for the consumers, where they don’t see problematic ads in the first place.
Going forward, what are the focus areas of ASCI?
From one to 10, the focus of ASCI will be on preventive actions, which is the biggest agenda at present. We have highlighted that we will be launching an ASCI academy which will look at preventive initiatives. We will work with students, and we are looking to work with consumers.