The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the apex advertising self-regulatory body, is rolling out guidelines to ensure influencers do not hide the fact that they are being “paid” for promoting a brand. The guidelines will ensure that they add #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored, and/or #partnership to their posts. The rules drafted after much consultation with agencies, marketers and social media influencers are very comprehensive in their scope. A little too broad, if I may add (https://asci.social/guidelines).

Why is ASCI asking social media influencers to flag that they are paid when a celebrity is featuring in an ad but is not disclosing that s/he is a paid endorser?

This was answered by someone who, quite rightly, pointed out that an ad is not editorial. So a viewer or a reader knows that an ad is not to be taken at face value. When celebrities endorse cement or IT services or real estate, they are but mannequins displaying the wares. And there is a clear separation between the church and the state, so to speak.


Then the question came about social media posts by celebrities. These cannot be differentiated from their normal post. An actor may wish all his fans “Happy Diwali”. And the next post may be “Enjoying Diwali Sweets made with XYZ brand ghee”. What about this, someone asked. If we were to take the ASCI guidelines, this post will have to carry a #sponsored tag.

Who is an influencer and why is this becoming a hot topic?

Reports say that there are over 200,000 social media influencers in India. They operate on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok (when it was active in India). They have followers ranging from 5,000 to 500,000 and more. So if you have 5,000 followers on any of the social media platforms, you too are an influencer, but a nano-influencer. The mega influencers have a million followers and more. Brands go after them to build traction, but interestingly 85 per cent of a brand’s influencer marketing budget goes to mega influencers, such as celebrities, actors, cricketers. There is still a lot of demand for influencers with 10,000 followers.

Brands like working with influencers. According to a report, 62 per cent of the 100 marketers surveyed said that they had worked with influencers during 2019. Big budgets are starting to go into influencer marketing; globally, an estimated $1.75 billion. In India, the amount spent on influencer marketing is estimated at $100 million; but all these figures are broad estimates. A lot of nano-influencers are happy to post an “unboxing” message when they receive a gift hamper. In a conference this author attended, a much in demand social media influencer was emphatic that she picks brands only if there is a “fit”.

Why is social media influencer marketing’s star on the rise? For one, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. There is also the general belief that social media influencers have dedicated followers who “believe” what they see coming from their idols. And there is a great way of picking those who are relevant to your business or brand. A fashion brand can reach out to 50 or 100 fashion bloggers. Similarly, L’Oréal has an army of beauty bloggers who it feeds new product news. To get a feel for the feeding frenzy among influencers to post about new products, just watch the OTT series Emily in Paris. In fact, that series is an interesting exposition of how the social media influencer game works.

At the other end of this is LinkedIn. The New York Times, in a story headlined “Why aren’t we talking about LinkedIn”, pointed out how the Microsoft-owned social media platform has 645 million users and it posts twice as much revenue as Twitter.

Social media influencer-led campaigns are not easy to measure. Given the fact that a number of followers could be a fake, even if your social media influencer post garners a few million impressions, you are not sure how many were delivered to humans and how many to bots (for a deep dive into this, read the book Subprime Attention Crisis by Tim Hwang).

Marketers need to study the role of influencer marketing in their overall campaign dynamics. For instance, when it launched its new range of all-natural baby products, Johnson & Johnson enlisted 100-plus influencers in the US as an early trial batch. Each influencer was an expert in the field of baby care. This created an initial buzz around the new rage before it was formally rolled out in the media.

Well-conceptualised social media influencer campaign can work as long as marketers are clear what role it will play in the overall marketing communication plan. If not, don’t do it simply because it is in vogue. ASCI rules notwithstanding.

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