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Decode

Why Has ASCI Brought In New Guidelines For Influencers?

Decode spoke to CEO of ASCI Manisha Kapoor to understand. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

By - Adrija Bose | 21 Aug 2023 10:16 AM GMT

“Only give advice if you are qualified to,” said The Advertising Standard Council Of India (ASCI) CEO Manisha Kapoor in an interview to Decode. Over the years ASCI has brought in guidelines to dissuade influencers from giving out incorrect information, but there are still hiccups.

The recent guidelines have made it compulsory for influencers in the banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) sector, often referred to as 'finfluencers', to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in order to provide investment-related advice.

The new guidelines require medical practitioners, health and fitness, and finance experts, who possess certifications from recognised institutions, to "disclose" their certified expert status or practitioner credentials when they are giving out information on health or finance. "Influencers providing advice and/or promoting and/or commenting on merits or demerits on aspects related to commercial goods and services, in the fields of Banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) and Health & Nutrition, must have the necessary qualifications and certifications in order to provide such information and advice to consumers," ASCI said in a press release.

Decode spoke to the CEO of ASCI to understand more. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Why was there a need for the guidelines?

Lot of advice are being given on health and financial matters online without necessarily knowing their credentials. It’s important that people know and receive this from experts, rather than from anyone. Just because someone has a lot of followers they shouldn’t be giving these advice. That’s the idea health and financial matters- they are technical in nature, they need expertise to be giving out this advice.

I may have found something that benefitted me but unless I am a doctor I don’t know if this can be applicable to the general population. So just because something has worked in my case may not work for everyone. So here you can’t give advice based on your personal opinion or personal instance.

For advice on health and finance, the advise has to come from a background of expertise. For example, drinking 2 glasses of water in the morning is good for everyone- certain health conditions may cause harm rather than good. So unless you are qualified to make those statements it's best you do not make them. From ASCI’s perspective, these come when you are promoting a product or even promoting yourself.

Are you concerned about influencers giving out misinformation?

It’s not always misinformation, it’s also half information because a lot of these advice are based on personal experience and not on any professional understanding. The intent may not be to mislead but these things can cause harm. So we had to draw a line and say only give out this advice if you are qualified to.

How will ASCI implement these guidelines on influencers?

ASCI has a fairly robust AI-based system to track influencers and their content and we will now look at these specifics closely. ASCI requires voluntary compliance which means that when there’s a consumer complaint or we take up a case ourselves we write to the advertisers and influencers to send in their justification. If they are able to justify what they are doing, then it’s fine. But if they don’t, then we hold them in violation to the ASCI code and we will first allow them to voluntarily make the changes or to withdraw the ad. If they don’t comply then cases are raised with government authorities to take certain action against them under the law. In more than 90-95% cases we get voluntary compliance. It is only the exceptions that we have to take up and inform the government about the violation.

The number of content creators have gone up tremendously over the last few years. Do you think the line between content and advertising has become blurry?

Yes, of course! That’s one of the features of digital marketing where advertisers are also trying to push out advertisements that don’t look like traditional advertisement. It’s difficult for consumers to make out organic vs paid content and that is why we are insistent on disclosures. We came out with guidelines in 2021 that said very clearly that every paid content must be disclosed.

How responsive are platforms if you reach out to them to pull down a piece of content?

Our first step is to ensure voluntary compliance. If that doesn’t happen, we do inform the platforms and the regulators to make sure that every part of the ecosystem is also responsible. But there’s still a long way to go with platforms. Globally they don’t have a system in place.

They have their own community guidelines if something violates that, they are quick to take action. However they do not have the means to understand whether an ad is misleading or not. For example, an advertisement for a pimple cream says that you will get rid of your pimple in 3 days but a study that ASCI has done shows that it takes 28 days. The platforms don’t have the infrastructure to figure all of this out whereas we have a range of experts, data coming in from the advertisers, we have an independent jury to look at it. We are looking for ways to work closely with them, it’s going in the right direction but there’s a lot more that can be done.

What are the challenges faced by ASCI in this age of growing influencers and content creators?

There are three or four key challenges. One is that campaign durations are shrinking. Earlier we would see a creative being used for a longer time, now every few months or weeks, the creative of an ad campaign is changing. The sheer number of creatives that ASCI has to go through is tremendous. Secondly, the number of advertisers. Earlier for advertising you needed a certain amount of money but now with digital advertising that has changed. There are websites and YouTube channels and multiple other ways to communicate with the audience. The third thing is content and advertising resembling each other. We are trying to address these by using AI monitoring software and new technologies.