March 1, 2021
Back in early 2019, I questioned why the influencer marketing niche in India is not regulated. In September 2020, I asked if we were on the path to making clear that ads are ads.
It seems we finally have the answer.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released guidelines that influencers and agencies must follow. But before we dive into the rules, let’s unpack the why.
Why are advertising guidelines important in influencer marketing?
The line between ads and simple user-generated content blurred along ago. While users are savvy by half at sniffing out sponsored content, creators are just as smart.
At times, promoted content feels organic, and at others, absolutely unpaid content looks like sponsored. The guidelines are necessary to erase this confusion.
So, your users are not misled simply because you omitted to mention that a particular post was paid. It ensures that the trust followers place in you is not abused – something vital for creators who want to retain their community.
What rules influencers have to follow according to ASCI guidelines?
When you publish paid content, it must have a clear label that a brand sponsored it. You’ll have to use one of the following hashtag:
You cannot use any other label such as #spon. Why? Because not all social media users will understand what it means.
You need to include the disclosure in the first two lines of the post’s description. It ensures that a user doesn’t have to:
- Click on more to see the hashtag
- Scroll down the fold
The hashtag has to be prominent and appropriate for the social media used (more on this later). Plus, the label has to be visible on every device – laptop, tablet, mobile, or PC.
What if you’re not adding a caption? Then you have to superimpose the hashtag on the video, audio or image.
For instance, you create an Instagram Story for a brand. Then the #ad or #sponsored label should be on the picture and clearly visible.
Specific rules for video content
- If there is no text added to your video and it is less than 15 seconds long, the disclosure label has to appear for 2 secs.
- If the video is between 15 secs to 1.59 minutes, the disclosure hashtag must appear for 1/3rd of the video’s length.
For example, a 1.59 min video should show #ad for 39.66 secs.
- If the video is 2 mins or more, the disclosure hashtag should appear the entire time you are:
- Promoting the brand
- Explaining the benefits
- Talking about product features
- For live streams, the hashtag should appear for 5 seconds every minute.
Rules of audio-only content
Like videos, if you are not adding a text description to podcasts or audio-only content, then you must clearly announce that it is paid content:
- Either at the start
- Or at the end.
You cannot add filters to your content to exaggerate the claim of the product or brand. E.g., making your teeth look whiter when promoting a toothpaste or your skin pore-less when talking about a skin cream.
You have to do your homework when talking about technical or performance claims.
Example of technical or performance claim: when you say the effect of a hair colour lasts for a whole month or laptop is two times better than its competitors.
What does ‘do your homework’ mean? Corresponding with the brand or advertising agency to confirm that the claim is scientifically supported.
Rules for specific social media platforms
The disclosure has to be right at the start of the message.
The tag or disclosure hashtag has to be at the start of the message.
The disclosure has to be overlayed on the video while you talk about the brand, product or service.
The title of the post must include the disclosure label.
You must disclose the paid content as a tag at the beginning of the message.
The title or the post description must have the disclosure label. This rule applies to all video platforms.
The disclosure hashtag has to be in the title of the post. If you publish a photo or video without text like that on an FB Story, then include the label on the video or image.
For Instagram Reels, Stories and IGTV, the label has to be included in the video or image itself. For all other posts that have a caption or description, include the hashtag in it. It should be visible without the need for scrolling down or clicking to see more.
What does ASCI consider an ad in influencer marketing?
Since most creators publish a lot of content, it can get unclear what type of content is an ad.
ASCI says that any paid communication meant to sway your community’s behaviour or opinion is an ad. If there is a material connection between you and the brand, consider the content as an advertisement.
This could be any of the following on apps, blogs, website or more:
- paid-for links
- viral advertising
- sponsored posts
- branded content
- native advertising
- promotional blogs
- in-game advertising
In simpler words, if you receive a payment for content, it falls under an ad.
What is material connection or payment?
When a creator receives an incentive or a benefit for publishing content, it is a material connection. Payment can be:
- Contest and sweepstakes entries
- Any employment relationship
- Free product, this includes any conditions attached with it such as:
- trips or hotel stays
- media barters
Any other form of compensation also falls within payment, like all free and unsolicited products you receive.
When to add a disclosure label?
Are the ASCI Guidelines for influencers final?
Not as of yet. The final guidelines will be published on 31st March. They will be applicable for all influencer content by 15th April.
But, as ever, I urge every creator to start following them now. Remember, your community is built on trust, and you gain that when you are authentic and transparent with them. This includes informing them when an ad is an ad!