Influencers, rather than celebrities, were behind more than 92% of crypto-related advertisement violations in India between January 2022 and May 2022, according to data released by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a voluntary self-regulatory organization of the advertising industry.
"We have taken up a total of 453 ad complaints related to Virtual Digital Assets till now (January 2022 to May 2022). Of them, 447 relate to influencers. Out of the total 453 ads that we examined, 419 required modifications, which were duly informed to the influencers," said Manisha Kapoor, the ad council's CEO, in an email to CoinDesk.
In India, box office film stars and international cricketers are seen as celebrities, while those broadcasting on YouTube channels or reaching considerable followings via Instagram are considered to be influencers.
ASCI said that "most of the influencer ads were a mix of breaching ASCI’s influencer guidelines and crypto guidelines in advertising." Some of the ads are still being changed to comply with the law but the overall compliance rate at this point is 77%.
Recently, some of India's biggest film stars, including Amitabh Bachchan, Ranveer Singh and Salman Khan, have become associated with crypto exchanges through promotions or advertisements during India's most-watched events such as the Indian Premier League, the fast-paced cricket tournament that grips the attention of most of the country for a few weeks every year.
Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led a government meeting about crypto in which a consensus was reached to stop "attempts to mislead the youth through over-promising and non-transparent advertising," according to a report.
ASCI had earlier said that it wasn't discussing changing its guidelines on crypto advertisements but clarifying its position, as an important stakeholder, on a suggested ban of Indian celebrities endorsing crypto products from India's markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
In February, the ASCI released its guidelines for crypto or virtual digital assets-related advertisements that went into effect in April. However, ASCI’s guidelines for influencers went into effect earlier, in June of last year.
"When we examine ads by influencers that are in violation of the ASCI code and do not carry the required disclaimer or the paid partnership tag or are breaching the ASCI code, we approach the influencer and inform them about the violation. Post this, they need to modify their ad and carry the appropriate disclaimer," Kapoor said in her email.
ASCI does not have the authority to ban celebrities or influencers from appearing in ads, but its guidelines are considered the blueprint to follow to protect consumers' interests.
In cases where the brands or influencers do not modify or withdraw ads that are found to be objectionable, ASCI escalates the case to government regulators.
Additionally, in case of a breach, the standards body publishes the names of those who have not followed the guidelines.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by Bullish, a cryptocurrency exchange, which in turn is owned by Block.one, a firm with interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets including bitcoin and EOS. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary, and an editorial committee, chaired by a former editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, is being formed to support journalistic integrity.