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.
“Native” advertising is content that has been designed so it doesn’t look out of place in the habitat within which it’s being viewed. In this way, it goes beyond simply targeting consumers with ads relevant to the editorial they are viewing (for example, serving a banner ad for a car to someone reading an article about motoring).
This context-driven approach isn’t a problem in and of itself, but marketers must ensure that ads remain recognisable as ads. Section 2 of the CAP Code deals with the recognition of marketing communications (i.e. ensuring people know when they are looking at an ad) and these rules apply regardless of the targeting or medium. The following guidance highlights the key issues to consider when creating native advertising in its various forms.
- Ensure advertorials are distinguishable from editorial content
- Remember that affiliate ads are subject to the Code
- Take care when integrating content discovery/recommendation panels
Ensure advertorials are distinguishable from editorial content
Most ads are obviously recognisable as ads purely by virtue of their content and the context in which they appear e.g. online banners on websites etc. One type of ad that, due to its close resemblance to editorial content, may be less readily identifiable as advertising is ‘advertorial’ or ‘advertisement features’.
This material may appear, for example, as long-form copy presented in a similar way as the editorial content on the publication’s website, or as influencer marketing posts. Whilst an ad may look “at home” within editorial content it must not appear to be editorial content when it is not.
Remember that affiliate ads are subject to the Code
Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing where an affiliate is rewarded by a business for each customer attracted by their marketing efforts. Affiliates typically place ads which include a code or attributable hyperlink, and are paid by the brand according to the number of click-throughs or purchases their content has generated. As the ‘affiliate’ has a direct commercial interest in generating sales or click-throughs, they are considered equally responsible for the content.
Like advertorials, affiliate ads are often very similar in appearance to regular editorial content, which is why it’s particularly important for them to be presented in a way that makes any affiliate advertising obviously identifiable.
See our detailed guidance on ‘Online Affiliate Marketing’ for further advice on this topic.
Take care when integrating content discovery/recommendation panels
Native advertising is not limited to ‘advertorial’-style materials. It may include links to other websites; for example, where brands have paid for content aggregators (or ‘Content Discovery Networks’/’Content Recommendation Engines’) to serve ads for their products to readers under a heading such as “from around the web” or “you may also like these”.
Where the context does not make the nature of the links clear, or it doesn’t distinguish between links to editorial pages and links to ads, clear labelling is likely to be necessary.
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 and the footer "Recommended by", were insufficient to ensure it was obvious to consumers that the links were marketing communications. This was because consumers might not notice the footer or realise that the logo which followed included a link to further information, and this further information was also considered to be insufficient (Outbrain Inc, 18 June 2014).
In that ruling, the ASA considered that the company which provided the aggregated content was responsible for the ads. 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 the responsible advertisers for the purposes of the ruling.
For example, when the ASA investigated an ad that appeared within a content discovery network panel on the Evening Standard website, the advertiser who placed the ad (rather than the network responsible for publishing it within their panel) was considered responsible (Person(s) unknown, 30 October 2019). In this case, the ASA ruled that the commercial intent of the ads was not made sufficiently clear. Although it implied consumers would be directed to a personalised funeral plan, the advertisers instead passed consumers’ personal information to other businesses in order to be contacted by them.
In early 2014 CAP’s Industry Advisory Panel (IAP) was asked to consider what might be considered appropriate labelling for such links, to ensure they are obviously identifiable as marketing communications. The Panel suggested “paid-for ad”, “ad” or “ad link” may be appropriate, and that the label would need to be placed near a “more from around the web” / “you may also like these” headline.
See also “Recognising ads: Overview”, “Remit: Social media”, “Remit: Advertisement Features”, “Online Affiliate Marketing”, "Recognising ads: Advertisement features". "Recognising ads: Newspapers and magazines". "Recognising ads: Social media and influencer marketing”, “Recognising ads: Brand-owned and paid social media”, “Recognising ads: Blogs and vlogs” and "Recognising ads: Native advertising".
The CAP Advertising Guidance notes on ‘Advertisement features’ and ‘Recognition of advertising: online marketing to children under 12’, as well as the ‘Influencers’ guide to making clear that ads are ads’, also provide further guidance.