Influencing the Influencers, finally

23 Feb,2021

 

By Bhuvi Gupta

 

Bhuvi GuptaI have long held a strong belief in the power of Influencer marketing (as regular readers of this column would vouch). Digitisation and connectivity has changed marketing forever and Influencer marketing is the sweet love child of this new media – it’s part Celebrity advertising (influencers with large followings become celebrities), word-of-mouth (influencers are relatable, hence their recommendations seem to come from a friend), branded content (product placements and content marketing) and pure play advertising.

 

Influencer marketing is here to stay and which is why I was enthused to hear that the (Draft) ASCI Guidelines for Influencer marketing, which have been in process since 2019 have been released.

 

 

The guidelines are available for all stakeholders, including industry, digital influencers and consumers for feedback till March 8, 2021. Based on the feedback, the final guidelines will be issued by March 31 and will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after April 15, 2021.

 

Manisha Kapoor

Manisha Kapoor

I joined a freewheeling chat that Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) had with the MxMIndia editor and it helped me understand the thought process behind drafting the guidelines. Sharing an overview of my thoughts and a few points of feedback which can get incorporated before the guidelines are finalised. The highlights of our conversation and my thoughts ar:

 

 

Who will take the fall?

 

One of our major points of discussion was around the roles of the platform and agencies which form crucial parts of the current ecosystem. In the current draft regulations, the onus of the responsibility lies only on the influencer and the brand. ASCI has already onboarded a few major platforms on their board and hopes to also partner with other major platforms and agencies to disseminate the guidelines.

From a managerial perspective, this is perfect. However, digital platforms unlike traditional platforms like TV and Print run on algorithms with low human intervention. This means that content gets served a multitude of times to people dependent on the influencer’s engagement, followers and other weighted parameters (parameters which are only known by the platform and are tweaked constantly basis multiple feedback loops). Hence, beyond the influencer and the brand, the platforms also ideally should be held responsible because they control the spread of the message.

 

The Influencer Agency

 

Influencer agencies are the newest agency type to hit the agency marketplace. As influencers mostly wear multiple hats like scriptwriter, actor, director, editor and costume designer, the influencer agency is part-celebrity management and part-media agency.

 

The role of these agencies is primarily to be responsible for deals they broker for influencers and to help brands partner with relevant influencers for their campaigns and to ensure speed in execution and content quality. ASCI will be using these agencies as a means to reach and educate influencers. Agencies typically work on commissions and will charge a percentage from the brand and from the influencer as well. However, by putting all the responsibility of the due diligence on the influencer, the role of the influencer agency is severely limited to being only a vanilla middleman. Whether or not it becomes a part of ASCI’s official guidelines, for survival, agencies must provide these services to influencers.

 

The Question of the Disclosures

 

One of the best directives of the guidelines was the prohibition of filters in case they emphasise the claim the brand is making.  [Filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making – like makes hair shinier, teeth whiter etc.] It is no secret that using the augmented reality and editing features (available easily on smartphones today) can dramatically alter your features. For influencers whose sphere of influence and impact is contingent on their credibility and trustworthiness, using augmented reality for a before/ after to promote a product to a trusting audience is more unfair than a photoshopped celebrity in an ad, because the audience trusts the influencer is real and just like them. This is hence a step in the right direction to minimise the pressures of fake imagery on consumers. Beyond filters, a declaration about whether images have been edited should also be added to this directive to ensure transparency

 

 

Damage control, Punitive Measures & their Efficacy

 

Manisha Kapoor mentioned that while ASCI is a self-regulatory body and doesn’t have the authority to take punitive action, the compliance rates with ASCI decisions have always been over 90% and they expect the same compliance for these influencer guidelines. In terms of any wrongdoing, or misleading advertising, they expect influencers to carry corrigendum announcing the error while taking down the content.

 

While mistakes will happen, because influencer content on social media gets reposted and reshared there will have to be some social media platform involvement to ensure takedown of the misleading content and the review cycle may need to be speedier as ASCI’s review of misleading advertisements follows a schedule.

 

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One of the biggest positive takeaways of our conversation with the ASCI Secretary General was that the entire industry has welcomed this step because the influencer ecosystem has been disorganised and self-regulated till now. With clear guidelines to follow in place, both brands and influencers now have a reference to ensure that they are responsible in their messaging.

 

ASCI also recognises this is just the first step in creating a regulatory framework for a digital marketplace that is evolving at breakneck speed and the framework will adapt as the ecosystem evolves.

 

This was a much-needed and long-awaited framework for the industry and I am excited about the creation of a more transparent digital ecosystem.

 

While stakeholders are very enthusiastic about the self-regulatory mechanism falling in place, a lot rests on them to make a success of the guidelines when they come into force on April 15.

 

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