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Contextually targeted branded content

Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.

The CAP Copy Advice team often receive enquiries about contextually targeted branded content, more often referred to as “native” advertising.  This material seeks to provide content generated by brands which doesn’t look out of place in the habitat within which it’s being viewed. This context driven approach isn’t a problem in and of itself, but marketers must be cautious that, in seeking to make ads more inviting, they do not camouflage advertisements. Clear labelling is often fundamental. The following guidance highlights the key issues to consider when creating native advertising in its various forms.

Ensure advertorials are distinguishable from editorial content

Whilst an ad may look “at home” within editorial content it must not appear to be editorial content when it is not.  The ASA has upheld complaints against online advertorials which did not make their nature clear (Unilever UK Ltd, 2 November 2011).  However, a website which stated "The page that you are currently reading is an ad feature" in a prominent banner at the top of the page was considered recognisable as a marketing communication (Marcândi Ltd t/a MadBid, 19 March 2014). Terms such as “Advertisement Feature”, “Promotional Feature” or similar are likely to be acceptable ways of labeling advertorials. Please see our detailed guidance on Advertisement features for more information.

Be wary of terms such as “sponsorship” and “in association with”

The ASA is generally likely to consider terms such as “sponsored content” as referring to a traditional sponsorship relationship, where material has been financially sponsored but over which the creator retains editorial control. Sponsorship of this kind is not covered by the CAP Code.

Using such terms to describe an ad feature is unlikely to be acceptable. Following an ASA challenge, the ASA ruled against an ad that was included in a “sponsored section” of a website and labelled as “in association with”, considering that the labels in themselves did not make clear the commercial nature of the content (30 December 2015, Michelin Tyre plc and Telegraph Media Group Ltd). Other labels that have been ruled insufficient include “Brand Publisher” (Henkel Ltd, 13 January 2016) and “"Thanks to [brand] for making this possible" (Mondelez UK Ltd, 26 November 2014).

Do not integrate content to such an extent that it is no longer identifiable as an ad

Native advertising is not limited to advertorial style materials. It may include links to other websites; for example, where content aggregators serve similar content to readers under a heading such as “from around the web”, or “you may also like these”. Labeling is likely to be necessary in order to make the nature of the links clear.

The ASA investigated whether or not a panel appearing at the foot of an article on a newspaper’s website headed "You may also like these" and featuring various paid for links to content made clear that the links were ads.  It ruled that the heading “You may also like these" and the footer "Recommended by", was insufficient to ensure it was obvious to consumers that the links were marketing communications, and the ad breached the Code (Outbrain Inc, 18 June 2014).  It’s worth noting that the ASA considered consumers might not notice the “Recommended by” text or realise that the logo which followed included a link to further information; in addition, they considered that the further information was insufficient.

In that ruling, the ASA understood the advertiser to be the company which provided the aggregated content.  Depending on the circumstances, it may be the case in other scenarios that the publisher, and/or the company whose ad is served, are considered advertisers for the purposes of the ruling.

CAP recommends that marketers think about whether the ad is recognisable as such from the start.  Please contact the Copy Advice team if you have concerns regarding an approach.

Updated 12/02/2016

See Advertisement features, Video blogs: Scenarios, Video blogs: Advertisement features

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