The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory organisation of the advertising industry, recently published 'The Annual Complaints Report FY 21-'22', which provided information on the complaints it examined and advertisements it handled. The top six violative categories showed the emergence of sectors like gaming and cryptocurrency. Others included education, healthcare, personal care, and food and beverage.
The significance of the digital ecosystem was reflected in the fact that 48 per cent of ads processed by ASCI were published digitally. 29 per cent of the complaints filed concerned influencers.
The regulatory body looked into 394 ads of virtual digital asset (VDA), with 98% of ads appearing on digital platforms. It noted that most of these ads were influencer disclosure cases where influencers spoke about navigating the VDA platforms or shared information about the category and how the platform is easy to operate.
"From some of the ads that made misleading claims, leadership and consumer trust claims were most common. Guaranteed earnings and performance comparisons with other modes of investments like Gold and stock investment followed. The other commonly found claims revolved around promoting the category through referral program claims like refer a friend and win," the report claimed.
Reining In The Finfluencing Community
For a while now, there has been an increasing clamour to control the wide-reaching influence of social media influencers. These individuals have several lakh followers and often promote financial products without due diligence or disclaimers. First-time investors, swayed by their fun and snackable content, invest in fiscal products, despite little knowledge about it.
A case in point is the recent meltdown of Singapore-based crypto exchange Vauld. A few weeks ago, motivational speaker and influencer Ankur Warikoo marketed it to his 2 million YouTube subscribers. He was not alone; other finfluencers like Akshat Srivastava, who has 1.12 million YouTube subscribers, and Booming Bulls, with 1.09 million subscribers, too, promoted the lending start-up.
However, on 21 June, Vauld's Founder, Darshan Bathija, announced that the company was laying off 30 per cent of its workforce. Some days later, he wrote a blog post stating that the company was suspending all operations—withdrawals, trading and deposits on their platform. He explained this decision was taken due to a combination of circumstances like volatile market conditions, the financial difficulties of key business partners inevitably affecting Vauld and the current market climate.
When investors started panicking, news trickled that Warikoo was reportedly paid Rs 4.47 lakh for his Vauld promotional video. When criticised on social media for marketing the lending platform, Warikoo claimed that his own investments worth Rs 30 lakh were stuck in the start-up.
Not All's A Game
Within the gaming category, the ASCI recorded a 472% rise to 383 ads that it looked at. Of this, 99% of flagged ads appeared on the digital platform, with TV and print accounting for just one per cent each.
Statista states that Indians spend an average of 2 hours and 36 minutes daily on social media platforms. Gaming account for a significant chunk of India's digital landscape, and this sector is extremely popular with the younger audience who spend hours on their digital screens.
Given this media's high engagement percentage, gamers have tremendous influencing power, especially on their young followers. Brands leverage their digital presence to promote products and services, either overtly or covertly.
Recently, WinZO, an interactive entertainment platform, roped in Ajey Nagar alias 'CarryMinati,' as its brand ambassador. As a part of this collaboration, the content creator will generate WinZO gaming-centric content exclusively on his YouTube streaming channel 'Carryislive', which has 11.2 million subscribers and a solo integration on his primary YouTube channel 'CarryMinati', which has 36.1 million subscribers.
To bring some transparency into the ecosystem, last June, ASCI introduced influencer guidelines making it mandatory for influencers to label the promotional content they post. To monitor potential violations of these guidelines, the organisation worked with a French technology provider, Reech.
Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI, said, "The Reech Influence Cloud platform uses Artificial Intelligence to identify lack of disclosure on posts of a commercial nature on social media. Machine learning algorithms and pattern searching Regex (Regular Expression) maximise accuracy. As part of ASCI's increasing focus on digital content, we will continue to deploy advanced technology solutions to keep track of advertisements that violate the ASCI code."
As advertising increasingly shifts to digital platforms, monitoring advertisements for misleading content will only become more challenging. It is also because the explosion of digital screens means that people consume more ads on their personal devices, making it difficult for regulators to understand their scale and impact.
"The volume of creative advertising units has exploded, and it is estimated that an average person is exposed to 6,000-10,000 ads per day," ASCI noted. In this ever-evolving space, the regulator will be kept on its feet, coming up with newer ways to keep consumers safe without infringing on the creativity of content creators.