The body that writes the UK advertising code has released its first ever guidance for video bloggers to help them understand how they should inform their followers when they have been paid by an advertiser to feature or talk about certain products in their videos.
In effect, the rules issued by the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) advise YouTubers that they must make it clear, upfront, when they have been paid by a brand.
That could include the vlogger actually saying verbally that they have a commercial arrangement with the advertiser, or prominent text signposting (as part of the actual video, not just the text boxes you can overlay a YouTube video with) at the beginning of the video could state: “Sponsored by …,” or “commercial,” or “Advert,” for example. Otherwise, they risk breaking the advertising rules.
But there continue to be grey areas. For example: if a brand’s PR team sends an item to a vlogger, but has no control about the video they produce, the CAP doesn’t deem this to be applicable to the advertising code because, ultimately, the content is controlled by the publisher, not the advertiser.
How the problem arose
Working with brands is a lucrative business for vloggers and bloggers.
While platforms like YouTube share the revenue associated with ads that run next to vloggers’ videos, online stars are also entering into marketing deals and earning thousands of dollars every time they mention or show a brand’s product in their social media posts.
Online comedian The Fat Jew, for example, reportedly earns $US6,000 per brand shout-out in his Instagram posts.
But with brands flocking to work with such stars to target young and often hard-to-reach audiences, issues of transparency arise. Online stars are not always making it clear to their viewers that a commercial agreement has taken place, which could mislead viewers as to the true intention of the content.
The videos, starring popular vloggers including Tom Ridgewell and Dan and Phil, failed to make it clear enough that they were marketing communications, which were paid for by Oreo owner Mondelez.
In May this year, a Procter & Gamble video that appeared on the Beauty Recommended YouTube channel, which featured a model vlogger, was also banned for failing to make clear it was a marketing communication.
Guy Parker, the chief executive of the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), said at an event in London March that since the Mondelez ruling, vloggers had been actively asking the advertising watchdog for help on the issue.
Since then, the ASA has consulted with marketers, advertising agencies, trade bodies like the Internet Advertising Bureau, vloggers, and some of the talent agencies and multi-channel networks (MCNs) that work with them, including Storm Management, Channel Flip, Red Hare Digital, and Gleam.
The new rules, detailed
The guidance issued by the CAP gives a list of eight scenarios of the types of commercial relationships that take place between brands and vloggers, and when the UK advertising rules kick in:
- Online marketing by a brand: Where a brand collaborates with a vlogger and makes a vlog about the brand and/or its products and shares it on its own social media channels.
- “Advertorial” vlogs: A whole video is in the usual style of the vlogger but the content is controlled by the brand and the vlogger has been paid.
- Commercial breaks within vlogs: Where most of the vlog is editorial material but there’s also a specific section dedicated to the promotion of a product.
- Product placement: Independent editorial content that also features a commercial message.
- Vlogger’s video about their own product: The sole content of a vlog is a promotion of the vlogger’s own merchandise.
- Editorial video referring to a vlogger’s products: A vlogger promotes their own product within a broader editorial piece.
- Sponsorship: A brand sponsors a vlogger to create a video but has no control of the content
- Free items: A brand sends a vlogger items for free without any control of the content of the vlog.
The CAP writes the advertising code, but in the UK, advertising is regulated by the ASA, which is independent of the government and the ad industry — it can order advertisers to cease their ad campaigns, although it has no powers to enforce its recommendations or fine offenders (although it can refer cases to organisations with enforcement powers.) Its main punishment comes by way of the bad publicity the adjudications it publishes on its websiteeach week, which news organisations often cover
Speaking to Business Insider at the ASA’s headquarters in London, CAP director of committees Shahriar Coupal said he hopes this ruling will not only have an impact in the UK, but elsewhere in the world too.
He revealed that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission had invited CAP to speak to it about this emerging regulatory issue and to offer advice.
Coupal said the two brands that the ASA has ruled against so far have been global brands, with huge global audiences, meaning any UK guidance may also have a “massive global impact.”
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