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Regulating Social Media Influencers (23 February 2021)

Regulating Social Media Influencers (23 February 2021)


Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) releases draft guidelines for social media influencers.


The draft rules have been prepared in collaboration with digital and social media stakeholders and influencers.

The guidelines are similar to the Federal Trade commission guidelines in the United States.

The draft proposal is up for public debate till March 8 and is expected to be rolled out by April 15.

Summary of the Debate

What is a social media influencer and social media influencer marketing?

  • Over the years and especially in the last five years, social media has become a very strong platform for consumers to interact with brands apart from having their own posts and community conversations.

  • A lot of brands have realized that this is going to become a very important engagement platform for their consumers and as a result of which there's also been another phenomenon of people who've been able to create their own communities and create their own following and whom we call influencers.

  • The world of influencers is very vast at any point of time, in India for example that is about 1, 50,000 already and at different levels of followership:

    • A micro influencer with a 10,000 followers

    • People with 50,000 followers

    • People with 1 million, 5 million

  • The reason the word influencer is that these followers look up to the person they are following and they believe in the person they are following and they accept the content of the person.

Why is there a need to check it?

  • Social media influencers enjoy a huge amount of trust, now with that trust comes a very large responsibility. Therefore if an influencer taking on a commercial proposition for a brand to convince followers about a particular brand then that marketing promotion comes with a certain responsibility.

  • The biggest issue here is that, in social media the lines between advertising and content have started to blur, it has started to blur so much so that many of these followers, a lay consumer is unable to distinguish on what is a paid promotional message and what is organic posts by the followers.

  • There's a lot of ambiguity coming in whereas this market area is concerned it's gray area, influencers are also somehow cheated or some other places, the industry is getting cheated or users do not understand.

  • There have been advertisements which are not to be shown to the children, they're not meant for children but they have been shown over there.

Checks and balances under the existing framework as far as social media influencers are concerned:

  • There is no clear cut definition or there is no clear-cut law talking about a regulation with regard to social media influencers but at the same time regarding online advertisement regulations, there are varied regulations.

  • Under Indian regime, there is Cable Television Network Regulation Act.

  • There is self-regulatory The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).

  • Apart from that there are rules under different laws like for example under IPC, there is special provisions with regard to any obscene publication, any harmful publication, there is an act called as Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956.

  • The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 to prohibit indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

  • The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 or COTPA, 2003.

Key recommendations of the ASCI:

  • ASCI’s objectives have always been twofold:

    • How do we protect consumer interest from them being misled

    • How do we guide our own community to become more responsible marketeers and advertisers

  • As per new draft regulation all influencers will have to declare if a product or a service is being covered as part of a promotion.

  • It states that advertising labels should be clearly visible for video content on all platforms, including mobile phones.

  • For audio content, the disclosure will have to be announced before and after the content.

  • In case of social platforms like Instagram, the guidelines suggest that the disclosure label be superimposed on the image.

  • The content cannot be digitally manipulated to show the product in better light.

  • Influencers will also need to verify whether the claims being made in the advertisement are valid and can be substantiated.

  • The draft code requires an influencer to do due diligence of any technical or performance claims of the brands they promote.

How is regulating social media influencer likely to impact brands?

  • Influencer marketing programs started getting the traction because consumers started seeing influencers as a bridge between brands and them, because suddenly they saw a lot of content that was being deemed by the influencers were far more relatable, they were far more easier to understand, they were fresher, they were more authentic and this is the main reason why consumers started seeing influences one of them.

  • Brands will have to take cognition of this whole thing of authenticity, the fact that whenever they're designing marketing programs or influencer marketing programs they will need to factor in the fact that it needs to be authentic.

  • Today, a lot of brands are trying to design influencer marketing program in such a way that it kind of seamlessly merges into the social media feed and consumers start thinking that it is content being generated by user.

  • The most important thing this regulation will do to the digital ecosystem is that it will bring in a sense of caution, it will bring in a few imperatives that will make brands and influencer think twice before planning a influencer marketing program for the consumers who are actually constantly looking up to that voice of trust.

  • A research done about three to four years back and this research talks about how transparency is critical to customers:

    • 47 percent of consumers are saying that they will actually boycott the brand if they feel that they are actually manipulating a system.

    • 64 percent of consumers are saying that they will actually boycott a social media platform if it is overcrowded with messages.

    • 79 percent are willing to actually pay a premium if they feel a brand is transparent.

  • Facebook about two and a half years back was almost pushed to kind of change their algorithm because it was actually giving lots of precedence to business and sponsored content but there was a push back from customers saying that we want our social media environment like we want which is we want personal content.

Way Forward:

  • First and foremost, we must help the consumer distinguish between what is paid content and what is organic post.

  • There's a need for a regulation, a national law a uniform national law for benefit of all the three stakeholders in the industry.

  • The most important thing that needed to be got that the little bit of the organization needs to come into play because a little bit of the organization needs to come into way clients handle their social media campaigns, a little bit of awareness, little bit of understanding that consumers are actually looking forward to brands and influencers because they want a trustworthy voice.

  • In the western markets, there is a far more active consumer redressal system but in the Indian market lot of things are happening and as we go along the consumer redressal systems will get stronger.

  • There is need to have one holistic regulation, a self-regulation or a proper law to talk about so that becomes a guide for all these influencers to look into and also users to understand that what exactly, how exactly and also for the advert company.

  • There's a lot of gray area, a lot of ambiguity in this because it's still at the nascent stage, it's growing so it's high time that we need to have a holistic regulation around this area.

  • We need to have a transparency in advertising which creates a level playing field for both influencers and also with brands and it becomes easier for the user base to make a prudent choice.

  • There should be some guideline which is accepted worldwide because we cannot restrict it to platform-based guidelines, country-based guidelines because the influencers are not restricted to any one country.

  • The responsibility lies most importantly in the hands of the brands and the marketers because the brands and the marketers most importantly will need to understand that consumers are seeking only honesty and transparency because they must understand there is a huge ethical wave that is blowing in the air and people are wanting to understand what the brands do.


  • We need to be as transparent with a lot of disclosures as far as social media influencers are concerned, brands and influencers too need to be equally responsible in deciding the kind of content that they put out on social media.

  • All stakeholders need to come on board and then we need to come out with the best set of guidelines so that it helps the consumers at the end of the day, protecting the consumers interest should be at the top of the list along with distinguishing between paid and organic content.

Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)

  • It was established in 1985.
  • ASCI is a voluntary self-regulatory organization, registered as a not-for-profit company under section 25 of the Indian Companies Act of 1956.
  • The sponsors of ASCI, who are its principal members, are firms of considerable repute within Industry in India, and comprise Advertisers, Media, Advertising Agencies and other professional /ancillary services connected with advertising practice.
  • ASCI is not a Government body. However, ASCI is represented in all committees working on advertising content in every Ministry of the Government of India.
  • ASCI follow principle of natural justice.
  • The aim of ASCI is to maintain and enhance the public's confidence in advertising.


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