The UK is cracking down on advertisers that give free gifts to YouTube stars in exchange for air time

Oreo lick raceYouTubeLast year the ASA banned a series of videos like this one featuring ‘Dan and Phil,’ who were being paid to film their Oreo licking race.

The UK’s advertising regulator is launching a crackdown on brands giving YouTube stars free gifts or paying for their products to appear in vloggers’ videos without clearly labelling the new form of advertising.

Speaking at UK advertising trade body ISBA’s annual conference in London on Wednesday, the CEO of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Guy Parker revealed that the regulator’s council is meeting on Friday to discuss how brands are working with vloggers to promote their products and services.

Parker said vloggers have been actively asking the ASA for help on the issue ever since the watchdog published a precedent-setting ruling against Oreo-owner Mondelez last year. The Oreo brand had paid for several YouTube stars to take part in an “Oreo licking race.” While the YouTube stars did reference the fact that they were working with Oreo, the ASA ruled that the videos did not clearly signal that the content was paid-for advertising.

“Almost all” the vloggers the ASA has spoken to supported the ruling, Parker said. He added that many are seeking help to understand “where the line is between ads and editorial — which is not an easy line to draw.”

He said one of the key reasons vloggers want help is that they want support in being able to “push back against some companies and PRs they say are pressurizing them to hide that the content is an ad.”

Parker likened the issue to the PR industry providing journalists freebies on behalf of their clients, although any positive reviews as a result are not governed under the advertising code. But at the moment, vlogging is subject to the UK advertising rules and issues will be investigated if there has been payment and control of content by an advertiser.

On Friday, Parker said, the ASA council will be discussing scenarios such as a brand providing free product to vloggers, but with a contract that they can say whatever they like about it (a bit like the beauty PR scenario). Another likely scenario could be a brand contracting a group of YouTube stars or bloggers, offering to send them on a short holiday and provided with branded equipment — asking for coverage and social media commentary in return. There’s no contract or fee here (although the equipment might be worth a fair price) but a specific advertising arrangement has clearly taken place.

Earlier on in his appearance at the conference, Parker said the ASA had resolved 37,000 complaints in 2014. He also revealed the majority of complaints the regulator receives are from the demographic group ABC1, from London and the South East of England.

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