With great influencing power comes great responsibility

Published on June 16, 2021

Influencers have left their imprint on digital platforms, building huge followings and a reservoir of trust. Influencer marketing is almost mainstream now – according to Business Insider Intelligence, the global influencer marketing industry is expected to grow from $8 billion in 2019 to a whopping $15 billion by 2022. In India alone, the influencer market is estimated at $75-$150 million a year, according to AdLift.

Such is the impact of influencers that even the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been able to stop their march. In fact, many of them used their reach to help. They amplified SOS calls, featured requests for medicine, oxygen cylinders, ventilators and hospital beds, and often successfully connected those in need with those who could help. They raised funds to feed the poor and sought to find emergency employment for laid-off workers too. However, there were also disturbing incidents of influencers charging for such posts or using the data gathered from the responses for their promotional content.

Separately, we witnessed the sharp rise of micro-influencers – those with 500 to 25,000 followers. They have the skill to express themselves creatively across niche fields like cooking, pet care, music, education, etc. Brands found that, as consumers searched for user-generated reviews or one-on-one recommendations, micro-influencers were perfect for their narratives. They naturally established an authentic connection with audiences because people find it easy to relate to someone like themselves. There is an element of trust in such interactions and a seamless alignment of values.

All this has happened at unprecedented speed – completely unregulated as well as without any defined rules or set of ethics. Naturally, this presented many challenges for all stake holders. Primary among them was that, more often than not, promotional content was never labelled or accompanied by a declaration. This meant that consumers, who had a right to know that the content was actually an ad, were kept in the dark.

Thus, there was an urgent need for establishing clear guidelines for influencer promotional content – just as they exist for other forms of advertising. ASCI responded by formulating the Guidelines for Influencer Advertising on Digital Media https://asci.social/guidelines, which were launched on May 27, 2021, after a collaborative process – in partnership with Big Bang Social – that included influencers, brands, advertising agencies, industry associations as well as consumers.

Tremendous care was taken to not make the guidelines an imposition. To ASCI’s amazement, the draft guidelines were met with enthusiasm by the leading lights of the influencer marketing industry. Among them were the likes of Dolly Bindra, Ayesha Billimoria, Sherry Shroff, Vishnu Kaushal and Raghav Meattle. So involved were the stakeholders that the deadline for feedback had to be extended and what emerged finally was a comprehensive set of final guidelines.

ASCI.social is now seeing a community of influencers, consumers, advertisers and talent management agencies coming on the platform. Influencers are thrilled to have the guidelines that acknowledge them as part of the advertising industry’s mainstream. Added to this is the fact that, as adherents of the guidelines and with their promotional content duly labelled, they are now trusted even more by followers. If there is transparency, viewers enjoy well-made ads and even compliment the creators, shared one influencer at the launch.

The tremendous outcome of self-regulation – effective and immersive collaboration has ensured that values of all stakeholders are protected. Self-regulation is quicker, more adaptable to changes as the industry landscape changes – as we’ve seen in India and abroad.

The mantra therefore will be what the ASCI Chairman Subhash Kamath coined: With great influencing power comes great responsibility!