Ad spending in influencer marketing has been soaring on social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. However, with the new draft guidelines from the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) calling for clearer disclosures on paid partnerships, both influencers and marketers are finding themselves at crossroads.
Marketers expect a marginal drop in influencer ad spends as a result of the ASCI guidelines coming into force but said things may not change drastically.
Spends may get impacted temporarily by about 10-15%. There are certain brands that do surrogate marketing without revealing it’s an ad. But people will mature beyond that after the guidelines and spending will go up again.
ASCI released draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media on Monday, calling for more upfront disclosures on paid collaborations by influencers besides issuing ‘ready reckoners’ for social media platforms.
The body said it has created the guidelines so that advertisements on digital media are honest and don’t violate ASCI’s chapter one on misleading advertisements. It has invited stakeholder feedback on the guidelines till March 8.
Influencer marketing is booming in India on social media platforms and is estimated to be worth $75-100 million. Brands allocate 10-15% of their digital media spends to influencer marketing. The market is now growing at 40-70% y-o-y.
The concern with influencer marketing is that lines between advertising and content have started to blur on digital platforms. “Consumers are unable to distinguish between what is a paid for a piece of brand communication versus a plain social media post.
ASCI says influencers will need to use tags like #ad or #collab, and add labels to posts and videos to disclose upfront that a post is an advertisement. ASCI is placing the responsibility of the disclosure upon the influencer and the advertiser for whose brand the advertisement is.
Bringing influencer marketing under the ambit of ASCI will mean that the regulator must strengthen its monitoring team to handle complaints and check for violators.
The nature of social media is such that anyone can aspire to become an influencer or advocate in their field of specialization. The market is vast and varied. Kareena Kapoor with 6.1 million followers and a beauty blogger with 10,000 followers on Instagram are both ‘influencers’ engaging with brands like Ariel or a small business selling handloom apparel.
Large brands and influencers with a huge following are more likely to be accountable to consumers as opposed to smaller ones. This means that while large corporates or celebrities may self-regulate responsibly, it could be an uphill task for ASCI to enforce its guidelines across micro or nano influencers and SMEs.
Furthermore, the platforms on which influencers post content are innumerable. YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and a whole host of short-video platforms and OTT platforms carry user-generated content that could be paid for. Of these, the majority of influencer marketing posts are shared on Instagram and YouTube
Of these two platforms, Instagram is the only one that offers a dedicated branded content tool. This allows creators to disclose when a post is a paid partnership and lets advertisers track the performance of branded content campaigns. Other platforms don’t have such an option yet and place the onus of declaring a paid engagement entirely upon the influencer or the brand while they draft their posts. The catch with even having a branded content tool like Instagram’s, however, it is fairly noticed that “posts that are tagged as ‘paid partnerships’ receive less engagement than organic posts. Furthermore, the absence of a penalty for violations combined with countless influencers, small and big, makes regulating the market hard for the industry body.