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The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has updated the definition of celebrities in its code to include social media influencers having a following of 500,000 or more.
The ASCI code has a specific guideline for celebrities which requires advertisements featuring celebrities to not violate the ASCI Code, and for celebrities to be familiar with the code in letter and spirit. Testimonials of celebrities must reflect their genuine, recent opinion and must be based on adequate information or experience about the product or service being advertised. The guidelines mandate that celebrities conduct due diligence to ensure that claims featured in the advertisements can be objectively verified and substantiated. Celebrities, when called upon, need to produce evidence of due diligence.
Alternatively, the advertiser should have developed the advertisement following ASCI’s advertising advice. Additionally, the ASCI code requires celebrities not to participate in the advertisement of a product, treatment or remedies that are prohibited for advertising under the Drugs & Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954; and the updated Drugs & Cosmetic Act, 1940, and Rules 1945 (Schedule J).
Here are some points to remember regarding the new guidelines and the influx of social media influencers as celebrities:
1. Historically, celebrities who could lend credibility for brands and influence large masses of people largely comprised popular actors and sports personalities.
2. However, in the recent years, the phenomenon of social media influencers has created new centers of mass-influence. In this scenario, it was necessary to broaden the definition of celebrities to include such influencers too.
The ASCI code new defines celebrities as individuals that:
3. Get compensated Rs 40 lakh or equivalent value annually for appearing in advertisements or campaigns on any medium and any format
4. Have a social media following of 500,000 or more on any single social media handle
5. It would be important to note that the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 puts the responsibility of due diligence on all endorsers, whether they are celebrities or not. However, due to the disproportionate influence and impact of individuals with large followership, ASCI requires celebrities to demonstrate a much greater responsibility in making sure that their followers do not get deceived or misled.
ASCI has noticed a massive increase in ads featuring celebrities that are misleading. Versus the 55 ads that it processed in 2021-22, ASCI processed over 500 misleading ads featuring celebrities in 2022-23. This shows that in spite of their legal obligations, several celebrities continue to feature in ads that make misleading claims.
Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General, ASCI, commented, “With the advent of social media and the increasing popularity of influencers on digital media, the definition of celebrities has come to change drastically. Earlier, only personalities from the world of sports or entertainment were considered celebrities. Today, however, the scenario is different. We have a range of personalities who are extremely popular on social media and share a close personal connection with consumers. These personalities affect the spending habits of consumers who trust them. So, it’s vital to ensure consumer protection – especially when celebrities endorse products or services that can cause serious financial loss and physical harm. This update widens ASCI’s ambit and includes all those personalities who have a notable influence as celebrities. With this, we have taken yet another important step in furthering the cause of consumer safety with regard to advertising.”