In recent years the Advertising Standards Authority (the
"ASA") has received numerous complaints about
advertisements not being properly identified as such, particularly
when it comes to the more subtle methods of advertising via social
media, online videos and blog posts.
Vloggers, bloggers and various other online influencers are
connecting with audiences of millions on a daily basis and it does
not come as a surprise that companies want to, and indeed could,
benefit from that. However, advertising to an established group of
"followers" is not without its issues: obvious
advertising may cause people to "tune out" while the
competition for an individual's attention in an online
environment is fierce since it is incredibly easy to unsubscribe,
fast forward and skip.
The Committee of Advertising Practice ("CAP")
published advertising guidance specifically for vloggers and bloggers a few years ago which has, according
to the CAP, resulted in an improvement in the way that advertorial
content is drawn to the attention of the audience. Where ads are
not quite as identifiable as they should be, the ASA has resorted
to informal action. The ASA has, however, identified that the
difference between sponsorship and an advertisement does not seem
to be 100% clear to all advertisers and influencers and has issued
Ads & editorial control
The test for content being classed as an "advertorial"
is twofold. Firstly there must be payment which does not
necessarily have to be money and could be for example complimentary
products. Secondly, the business must have control over the
editorial content of the blog post, tweet or vlog entry.
Where the company behind the product is able to exercise control
over the content of the message that is likely to be considered an
advertisement. For example in the recent enforcement against Alpro (UK) Limited, the ASA held that where
the agreement for a twitter campaign between the company and the
Included a ban on advertising competitors' products.
Provided that Alpro would own the intellectual property rights
to the tweets and other content gave Alpro final approval of the
Required the tweets to be based on the company's key
This was enough to constitute "editorial control." In
addition to the "stand there and say this" approach, more
subtle ways of influencing the content are likely to be caught.
Online influencers are known for their unique delivery and like to
put their own slant on things but the editorial control test allows
the ASA to look beyond this. If there is payment and editorial
control, the content is an ad which should be identified
Sponsorship – how does it differ?
When it comes to sponsorship, the influencer may receive payment
(in the form of money or "in kind" gifts) but there is no
surrender of editorial control. The influencer will have complete
control over any content or review posted about the product. CAP
does not recognise this as an "advertorial" and it would
not have to be identified as such.
If it's an ad, tell
Companies and influencers must ensure all advertorials are
clearly labelled and acknowledged as such. The substance of the ad
is the responsibility of the influencer as well as the company
behind the product. The ASA recommends that those advertising on
social media always label their advertisements. There is no
specific wording that must be used and common labels that are used
within the industry are "ad" and "advertisement
feature". A cautionary note though when labelling advertising
content. Sponsorship is not the same as advertising and terms such
as "sponsored by" and "spon" should not be used
with advertisements. Phrases such as "in partnership
with" and 'thanks to our friends at...", are also
misleading to audiences so are best avoided altogether.
The material contained in this article is of the nature of
general comment only and does not give advice on any particular
matter. Recipients should not act on the basis of the information
in this e-update without taking appropriate professional advice
upon their own particular circumstances.
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