Launched in 2005, and acquired by Google the following year, the aptly named video-sharing platform ‘YouTube’ is often reported as one of the most used social media platforms. With a wide range of content uploaded by an equally wide range of users, it’s easy to see why it has such a large audience. While this can offer some great marketing opportunities, it can also present challenges for compliance with the ad rules.
As the rules in the CAP Code are largely media neutral – from display ads, video ads and overlays to brand channels and influencer marketing - the same rules and principles that apply in other media are equally applicable to advertising on YouTube.
Don’t skip your ad compliance obligations - here are some of the key principles to help you avoid an upheld ruling from the ASA for your ads on YouTube.
Titles, thumbnails and descriptions
As is true for all the other social media platforms, and indeed all media, advertising on YouTube - whether it’s a video uploaded by a brand about a product they sell or influencer or affiliate marketing content - must be obviously identifiable as advertising.
Most ads within YouTube’s own ad formats including display ads, overlay ads and pre-roll video ads are likely to be recognised as advertising from the context alone. Similarly, videos uploaded to brand-owned channels are generally likely to be recognised as advertising without any additional labelling, but this does rely on the channel being clearly brand-owned.
However, the ASA’s research on labelling influencer marketing found that people really struggle to identify when social media posts by influencers are ads. This means that videos uploaded by influencers (and others) which either are, or contain, advertising or affiliate marketing, are very likely to need an additional label to distinguish them. One of the ASA’s landmark precedent-setting cases involved five advertorial videos from vloggers participating in an “Oreo lick race challenge”. Although some had stated verbally or in the description things like “Thanks to Oreo for making this video possible”, this would only be presented to consumers after they had started watching the videos and it was ambiguous as to whether the content was advertising or purely sponsored content. With the videos being similar in style to the vloggers' usual content, the ASA decided that they were not obviously identifiable as marketing communications. In another case, videos that included “Thanks to Wahoo Fitness for the products used in this video” and “Thanks to our sponsors” in the description, were similarly judged not to be obviously identifiable as ads.
If it’s not otherwise clear we recommend, as a minimum, that videos that are wholly advertising content include a prominent ‘Ad’ label near the beginning of the title and/or prominently in the thumbnail so that it’s clear before people engage with the video. The ‘description’ is very unlikely to be sufficient because it’s not visible before people click to watch the video – and is even less visible on mobile.
If the video is largely editorial but includes a section that is advertising, or only some of the products featured are affiliate-linked products, it should be clear immediately before or at the time the advertising starts/the affiliate linked products are featured – either by way of a clear verbal explanation or prominent on-screen text to make clear which parts of the content are advertising.
For more detailed guidance on the principles here, see the ‘Influencers’ guide to making clear that ads are ads’. And for blogs/vlogs specifically, see here.
Know your audience
Targeting is important, particularly for certain types of content (like ads for horror movies, and ads inspired by ads for horror movies, even if they’re trying to be ‘tongue in cheek’) and for advertising of certain products like alcohol, gambling and HFSS foods.
The ASA will always expect you to use all of the tools available to target appropriately on any platform and to ensure that you have taken all reasonable steps to avoid your ads being seen by someone who, for example due to their age, shouldn’t. It is not sufficient to rely on self-reported age or the fact that an age-appropriate account was logged in – you should also take into account the type of content that the ad appears around. This is because the nature of the platform means that it is often shared by multiple people from the same household, including children.
When it comes to influencer marketing, there usually isn’t access to the same targeting tools and so marketers should take into account the age demographic of an influencer’s subscribers and the type of content they produce, when deciding who to work with.
For more on this, see our previous article.
Content is king
YouTube plays host to a huge variety of weird and wonderful online content, but marketers need to take care when advertising on the platform. Ads which show normal people in realistic, hazardous environments where risks are trivialised are likely to be seen as socially irresponsible and harmful. And overly-sexualised representations of women are likely to be regarded as socially irresponsible and offensive. It’s also important to ensure that content does not mislead – for example, by being able to substantiate claims made, and not making false claims regarding the availability of a product or service.
From alcohol to gambling and motoring to vaping, there are also plenty of specific rules and prohibitions that apply to different ads and products and these apply equally on YouTube. Ads for food or supplement brands, especially those claiming weight loss or other benefits, need to make sure any health or nutrition claims made are authorised on the EU Register and the content follows the other rules in Section 15. For other health and medical products the rules in Section 12 apply. The same rules apply to both brand marketing and influencer marketing.
If you’re running a competition or prize draw on YouTube, make sure you include all the significant terms and conditions that apply and a link to the full terms, at least in the description, and follow the other rules in Section 8.
Did you know that we have our own YouTube channel where we upload advice videos and webinars? If you’re so inclined, by all means subscribe to stay up to date with our latest guidance.
For more on influencer marketing generally visit www.asa.org.uk/influencers to find all of our influencer marketing resources. Our Copy Advice team are also on hand to provide bespoke advice on any YouTube campaigns.
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