India’s advertising industry self-regulatory voluntary organization, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), has issued a set of draft guidelines that instruct all social media influencers to prominently mark the content of promotional products and services on digital platforms. When the guide was published, leading brands were increasingly relying on influencers on social media platforms to promote their products. Once the proposal is finalized, it will ensure that each influencer must follow strict rules to correctly disclose the nature of its promotional position to audiences and followers.

After a round of negotiations with digital influencers, industry stakeholders and consumers, the draft guidelines proposed by ASCI are expected to be completed on March 31 this year. The guidelines will take effect on or after April 15.

In its guidelines, ASCI instructs all influencers to disclose and post any promotional posts in the first two lines, regardless of the platform. “Advertisements must be clearly distinguished by ordinary consumers from editorials and independent user-generated content to prevent audiences from confusing the two. Therefore, disclosure tags must be added to the list of approved tags,” the agency wrote in its proposal.

ASCI has also issued a set of approved tags, which must be added to any promotional posts. They include #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored and/or #partnership. “Only permitted disclosure labels are considered sufficient, as consumers may not be familiar with the various creative ways that advertisers and influencers may wish to convey the aforementioned advertisements.”

The agency also explained why the disclaimer is placed in the first two lines of any post. “The disclosure label used to highlight the content of the ad must be advanced (within the first two lines of any given platform so that consumers can view more content without clicking or scrolling), highlighting (so people Don’t miss it), suitable for the channel (what you can see and when you see it), and suitable for all potential devices (no matter what device is used, or a platform such as a website or application, it must be visible). To better understand the viewer, the label should be in English or translated as “the language of the ad.”

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If the promotional message is only a picture (such as Instagram Stories or Snapchat), the tag must be prominently displayed on the picture. If the promotional post is in the form of a video without accompanying text, the tag needs to be superimposed on the video itself. “For videos that last less than 15 seconds, the disclosure tag must be kept for at least two seconds. For videos that are longer than 15 seconds but less than 2 minutes, the disclosure tag stays at 1/3 of the video length. For two minutes or more For long-term videos, the disclosure label must exist throughout the entire process of mentioning the promotional brand or its functions, advantages, etc.”

If it is a live broadcast, the public tag needs to be placed for five seconds at the end of each minute. For audio posts, tags should be declared at the beginning and end.

ASCI strictly requires influencers not to add filters to enhance the effectiveness of advertising products. “If the filter exaggerates the claimed impact of the brand, for example, making hair brighter, teeth whiter, etc., the filter should not be applied to social media advertising.”

The agency also requires influencers to conduct due diligence on product performance requirements, such as first-class, better, twice, and longer service life. “Evidence of due diligence includes communications with advertisers or brand owners to confirm that the claims made in specific advertisements have a scientific basis.”

Finally, ASCI recommends that a contractual agreement must be established between the advertiser and the influencer, which should “include provisions regarding disclosure, use of filters, and due diligence”.

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The guidelines recommend that all disclosures should be clearly visible in all promotional posts on all devices (including mobile phones, tablets or PCs) and all platforms (from Facebook to Twitter). ASCI stated: “A wide range of disclosures in the personal data/introduction/about section will be considered insufficient, because people who visit the website may read personal comments or watch personal videos without seeing another page. Disclosure.”

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