- The Advertising Standard Council of India has released a new set of guidelines for
Non-Fungible Tokensand Cryptocurrency, effective from April 2022.
- After November 2021, all major
cryptoexchanges had to put a pause on their marketing and advertising activities as PM Narendra Modi had announced in a Parliament meeting that attempts to mislead the youth through over-promising and non-transparent advertising need to be stopped.
- After a long hiatus, now that there will be more clarity and standardization in crypto advertisements with
ASCI’s guidelines, their ad expenditure is likely to return on digital and traditional mediums.
- We reached out to experts to discuss how players in the segment can navigate these challenges and woo consumers without violating regulations.
A recent report by Deloitte predicts that India will be quick to catch on to the global NFT revolution with favourable regulations. In fact, it says that NFTs for sports media will generate more than US$2 billion in transactions in 2022, about double the figure for 2021.
Another report from market research firm Finder said that Asian countries are outpacing the rest of the globe in terms of crypto adoption. The Asian country with the highest percentage of crypto ownership was Vietnam at 40% followed by Indonesia, India, Malaysia, and the Philippines, respectively.
However, since November 2021, all major crypto exchanges in India had put a pause on their marketing and advertising activities after PM Narendra Modi had announced in a Parliament meeting that ‘attempts to mislead the youth through over-promising and non-transparent advertising should be stopped.’ Since then, the crypto exchanges have refrained from launching fresh advertisements on print, television and radio.
Now, the Advertising Standards Council of India has released a new set of guidelines for NFT products and crypto exchanges. Under the new standards, all Virtual Digital Assets and services will be required to carry prominent disclaimers.
Experts welcome new ASCI guidelines; call it a step in the right direction
Crypto platforms, after a long hiatus from marketing, are up for the challenge and are excited to be resuming their marketing activities before the Indian Premier League.
Welcoming the new guidelines, Ashish Singhal, Founder and CEO, CoinSwitch said, "The ASCI guidelines are a step in the right direction to standardize advertisements within the VDA space. The VDA industry is supportive of all efforts towards investor protection, however, there are nuances that need to be addressed as the space is ever-evolving. We will continue to work together with ASCI and other stakeholders to refine them further.”
Manasa Rajan, Business Head at Jupiter Meta also said that the new guidelines will improve accountability. She said, “This move is welcome and will offer further legitimacy to this space and create more accountability from the marketers, which is a positive direction for a nascent category with a customer-centric approach. While cryptos are seen as purely investment or trading opportunities, where the ultimate goal is profit., NFTs have a value proposition that is far more versatile than just speculative worth. It is more about changing the way we consume content, engage with art & artists and immerse ourselves in popular culture. So, NFTs’ value cannot be seen from a trader’s lens alone. The experience of involvement, decision making, ownership & utility have emotions attached to it, just like art, gold or even high-end brand purchases. Hence, a regulatory framework should be more inclusive in approach for a nascent category, where the inherent value of these NFTs is still being discovered.”
The regulations come almost a month after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced plans to tax crypto investments by 30% during India’s Union Budget.
No crypto advertisement can now contain statements that promise or guarantee future increase in profits either.
Overall, the current guidelines indicate that ads cannot mislead, misguide, give false information, or exploit a consumer’s lack of expertise on a subject.
Whether it was CoinSwitch’s maiden B2C advertisement with Ranveer Singh or Ayushmann Khurrana’s campaign with CoinDCX, advertisements last year showed how investing in crypto is the future and it is very easy and simple to invest in. All of these ads painted a rosy picture that highlighted the highs and downplayed the volatility and risk of the assets.
Therefore, ASCI is now restricting VDA products from claiming that their assets are so easy that consumers do not have to think twice about investing. It is also barring the use of the words ‘currency, securities, custodian and depositories’ in crypto-related ads.
The task now for these crypto players is to win the confidence of people, raise awareness and educate, while convincing them that it is safe to invest in crypto. On top of these regulations and lack of trust in the market, crypto exchanges will be competing with the government’s own digital currency.
Rikki Agarwal, Co-Founder & COO from Blink said, “Last year, we saw an uptick in the crypto ad spends during the festive season and during important cricket matches. The new guidelines by ASCI will certainly have an impact on the brand spends, especially during the upcoming IPL tournament. The associations with Influencers and celebrities will also witness a radical shift. The move will definitely help in education and creating awareness amongst the consumers but it is too early to comment on the impact on the brands. Currently, India is the second-largest market in cryptocurrency adoption and the culture seems to be growing rapidly. With the adoption increasing among young men and women, private players such as CoinSwitch Kuber, CoinDCX and WazirX had plans to increase their ad spendings to compete with the possible launch of the government's digital currency. With the move from ASCI, the brands will definitely have to relook at their strategy and plan their ad spends. Brands will also have to consider spending on other platforms and mediums to interact with the consumers and will open up new avenues for growth.”
Crypto platforms will also have to relook at the duration of their ads because it might get difficult for the audience to understand crypto in 10-15 seconds; it could send the wrong message across and mislead consumers.
Navigating the challenges of advertising in the NFT, Crypto landscape
While there are a lot of grays in crypto ads and ASCI guidelines will certainly bring transparency, will it restrict creative freedom?
Vijay Pravin, Founder & CEO of bitsCrunch, does not think it will.
“With the new tax rules and now ASCI’s regulations, I don’t think it will be challenging for digital products to be creative. In fact, this will bring out more creativity among the Web-3 people. When people came out with the concept of Cryptocurrency, it was laughed at, since it was new and seemed confusing. Likewise, the laws and regulations for cryptos will take time to be able to cover all bases. With web-3, we are enabling an additional asset class for the future. For sure, in the years to come, we are going to witness a quirkier side of NFT and crypto projects than now. Regulations or laws keep changing. This is the current stand but in a few months or years, we could witness something else. But the technology or the infrastructure remains the same. We already witness that India is making progressive steps towards Blockchain technology. I am personally looking forward to seeing how this technology and the landscape evolves,” said he.
Raj Shamani- Digital Content Creator, Entrepreneur, Investor and Podcaster said that while creativity will get hampered to some extent, the overall impact on the whole industry and people interested in this industry will be positive.
“A lot of people have been misusing their power to pump & dump and promote wrong things just to make quick bucks. This is going to be good for people who are here for the right reasons because they are anyway educating. And if they are providing good value education, people are going to learn about it. Also, it's always the best to tell people I am not personally recommending so that people can easily differentiate between honest opinion and promotional opinion,” said Shamani.
He also shared some advice on how to connect with consumers. He said, “The best way to woo consumers is to provide them the right education and value. If you educate your audience right. If you tell them the right things. If you let them know the use cases. If you tell them about the community power. If you tell them how this is going to empower their life and not 'sell it'. The content will connect. People who have been already doing this thing in the space won't face a problem. In fact, this will make people more aware and push them to promote and make the right content. This will only help to eliminate the promotion of bad projects.”
Anjali Malthankar, National Strategy Director, Tonic Worldwide said that with everything new comes excitement and concern and both need our attention. "I think the attention from regulators for any space which is seeing a crazy traction in such a short period, is expected. At the pace that NFT, Crypto are growing in popularity the interventions are understandable. As far as the challenge for creative promotions is concerned, I think the creative agencies have often come across the term during briefings – “It’s a creative challenge” So, in that spirit creative will always find its way to not let this come in the way of creativity. There have been very many categories, including traditional finance categories which have disclaimers and yet it does not stop good creative work. In fact, the fence sitters or doubters who were unsure of the VDA products, might consider the category, as promoters get more upfront and transparent about it. If VDA brands are strategically not dependent on or riding on the fad, confusion, consumers’ lack of knowledge and noise but have a genuine offering, then it is just about giving space to disclaimer which for today’s smart and conscious consumer is nothing but a sign of transparency. In fact, if we see closely Crypto and NFTs are born out of blockchain and the need for transparency and hence in intent they are both (the regulators and VDA category) on the same page."
Rage Coffee recently made its debut in the blockchain matrix with its valentine's NFT campaign. Its Founder, Bharat Sethi said that the growing adoption of crypto tokens has led to the emergence of advertisements that downplay the risk associated with these assets. Therefore, according to Sethi, increased transparency is a welcome move and where it might impact creative freedom, when it comes as a hit on the consumer interest, it is best to be transparent and supply critical information/disclaimers in this volatile category.
“Even after including the disclaimers and adhering to the guidelines, there is scope for being creative. It does restrict creative freedom in communication; however, this is in the best interest of an average consumer who might not have in-depth knowledge about cryptocurrency and VDAs. A promise that can not be kept should ideally not be made in a promotion. There is a need to educate the consumer on the basic ideas around NFT, cryptocurrencies and take the customer on a journey to understand how these assets are. The risks can not be downplayed as risk appetites are very personal. There is plenty of space to experiment, spread awareness and create a buzz,” said Sethi.
NFT marketplace Fullyfaltoonft.com curated by Viacom18’s Youth Music & English Entertainment cluster and powered byGuardianLink.io has already received an overwhelming response for its digital artwork preview. Keyur Patel, Co-Founder & Chairman, GuardianLink and Co-Founder, BeyondLife.club said that consumer education comes first and it's a welcome move from ASCI to ensure customers are aware of the market volatility. "Crypto as an investment class is quite volatile compared to stocks or real estate. All investment Ads and campaigns have a responsibility to educate the users on the risks and affiliated volatility and liquidity restrictions and aspects of the asset. Even media, ad agencies, and other supporting ecosystems have the responsibility to educate the same market in a responsible method. NFT is not a financial asset. It is a digital asset associated with games, entertainment, and art. Its inherent value is either in art or utility. Also, the buyers of NFT don’t buy it because there is instant gains, they do it because they find affinity to Amitabh Bachchan or Stan Lee or they find Game like Racing very interesting and want to participate in it. Crypto is purely a trade asset, for investments and hence it needs very aggressive education to make sure, the expectations of returns for the buyers are not skewed by hype and unrealistic aspirations. So, this declaration will not just motivate consumers to study the brand/product before purchasing but also put the onus on celebrities who endorse digital assets to do due diligence thereby promoting a responsible environment. Many industries have been following such guidelines without seeing any impact on creativity. It will rather inspire marketers and content creators to make their storytelling more creative and credible than ever before."
Sagar Pushp, Co-founder and CEO, ClanConnect agreed that clear-cut norms were needed in this space.
“For advertisers, the greatest purpose of communication is to put across accurate messaging for users. The new promotion and advertising guidelines for crypto assets will bring this authenticity into the segment. It is a welcome move by ASCI as it will ensure that brand communication is not misleading. Going forward, brands will need to operate within the guardrails of these guidelines, making sure their messaging is not limited to quick money and gains. The intrinsic value of blockchain is much wider than the prospect of big money, and we’ll need to get creative to empower users with precise information,” said Pushp.
After a long pause, now that there will be more clarity and standardization in crypto advertisements, their ad expenditure is likely to return on digital and traditional mediums.
During the festive season and IPL last year, crypto platforms were at their peak. The month of Diwali, which was October in 2021, nearly had a 30% share of the category in digital advertising and it took a dip by 6% in November 2021, whereas on television, there wasn’t a single ad from Crypto platforms in 2020, revealed TAM. In 2021, television saw 33.4 hours of advertising from Crypto platforms. The festive season proved to be bountiful for television too as October had more than 75% share of Crypto platforms, up from 2% in June and 23% in September.
A lot of people have been speaking about the risks of investing in digital currency without fully understanding how the crypto ecosystem works. ASCI’s guidelines, therefore, could help bring about more transparency and accountability into the ecosystem.