The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) on Wednesday updated the guidelines for social media influencers and celebrities. According to the revised guidelines, any social media influencer with an annual income of more than ₹40 lakh through marketing and campaigns can be termed a 'celebrity.' Moreover, any influencer with a following of more than 5,00,000 on any of the social media platforms can be termed a 'celebrity.' The term celebrity has also been extended to doctors, authors, and activists amongst others who have done notable works in their respective fields.

The advertising agency has, however, asked social media influencers and celebrities to conduct “due diligence” while choosing their advertising and marketing campaigns. The ASCI's revised guidelines come amid a sudden surge in misleading advertisements over the past few months.

The domestic social media influencer market is projected to rise to ₹2,800 crore with a compound annual growth rate of about 19% to 20%, according to the consumer affairs ministry.

Meanwhile, the department of consumer affairs has also tightened norms for health and wellness celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers. According to the revised guidelines, "certified medical practitioners and health and fitness experts holding certifications from recognised institutions when sharing information, promoting products or services or making any health-related claims, must disclose that they are certified health/fitness expert and medical practitioner and must provide clear disclaimers."

"Endorsers are encouraged to conduct a thorough review and ensure they are in a position to substantiate the claims made in the advertisement before endorsing a product or service. They shall conduct adequate due diligence before endorsing any product or service. They may, preferably, use or experience product or service to the extent possible before endorsement," says the revised guidelines.

"Furthermore, celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers must make certain that the information and advice they share are substantiated by facts and they must provide appropriate sources and citations where necessary, It's essential that celebrities. influencers and virtual influencers refrain from making false, misleading or exaggerated claims that could potentially mislead their consumer," it adds.

According to the new guidelines, while promoting health and wellness products or services, celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers are obliged to include a disclaimer clarifying that their content should not be seen as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. "Simultaneously, endorsers must encourage their audience, during such promotions, to seek advice from health and wellness centres or healthcare professionals prior to making any significant alterations to their diet, exercise or medication routines," says the revised guidelines.

The government has asked health influencers to use statements such as 'As a certified nutritionist. I recommend..' or 'With my background in personal training, I find this product helpful for...' while advertising a product.

"Violators may be penalised in accordance to the Consumer Protection Act 2019 and other relevant provisions of the law for non-compliance with these guidelines or for sharing misleading, false harmful information," says the revised guidelines.

In January this year, the government said that the violations of guidelines by social media influencers will attract a fine of ₹10 lakh on manufacturers, advertisers and endorsers, whereas a penalty of ₹50 lakh can be imposed on subsequent offences. Meanwhile, the endorser can be prohibited from making any endorsement for up to one year and on subsequent offences, the prohibition can be extended to three years. 

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