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ASCI tightens norms to keep celebrity influencers in check as violations rise

New Delhi: The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has tightened its guidelines for celebrities advertising for brands, following an over 800% increase in violations by influencers and celebrities on social media and advertising platforms.

In a revision to its 2017 guidelines, the self-regulatory body expanded its definition to include celebrities with a social media following of 500,000 or more on any one platform or who receive compensation of 40 lakhs or equivalent value per annum for appearing in advertisements or campaigns on any medium or format. Previously, the guidelines included only those earning 20 lakh from endorsements.

The updated guidelines also expand the definition of “celebrity” to include notable personalities such as doctors, authors, activists, and educationists, extending beyond the traditionally recognized field of entertainment and sports.

Now, a celebrity, or their agent or manager must also give a signed written confirmation to the council that they have undertaken due diligence for the claims and representations made in the advertisement.

The council said that it is because celebrities have a strong following and high credibility among consumers that advertisements featuring them must doubly ensure that claims made by them are not misleading, false, or unsubstantiated. This is especially also true of products or services which can cause serious financial loss and physical harm.

The guidelines, though self-compliant, have been developed so advertisers, too, can be guided to produce and release appropriate celebrity ads. The earlier list in 2017 was also a list of the top 100 celebrities.

In January this year, the government’s Central Consumer Protection Authority also brought out its rules for influencer endorsements where it would fine advertisers, manufacturers, and endorsers 10 lakh for the first offence and 50 lakh could be imposed as a subsequent penalty. But this has a wider ambit than ASCI’s current update. The CCPA also stipulated that it could prohibit the endorser for up to one year if violations are found. This could be extended up to three years as well.

It said while companies have a responsibility, celebrities also have an added responsibility to not promote prohibited products or services and other such products that require health warnings. “Social media influencers themselves are akin to celebrities today and we require them to follow the guidelines themselves. We are making this due diligence binding for celebrities,” said Manisha Kapoor, chief executive officer of ASCI.

If it is a social media influencer advertisement, then the council will get involved. If the advertisement has been reported as problematic, either by the general public or if its AI-based software detects an issue.

The council said complaints against celebrities witnessed a huge jump from 55 in 2022 to 503 in 2023. The violator list included a very problematic category of ads, gaming with big named influencers like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Youtube personality Bhuvan Bam who endorsed ads for Tictok Skill Games Private Limited, the parent company of WinZO. Dhoni violated the code at least 10 times.

Cricketer Virat Kohli and actor Jim Sarbh were found to have violated the code when endorsing Mobile Premier League through its owning company Galactus Funware Technology Private Limited. Kohli violated the code four times. While most problematic ads were in gaming, education and beauty-related ads were also found to be an issue.