When promoting products online, a growing number of advertisers are using “contextually targeted branded content”, otherwise known as “native ads". These online ads are designed to fit in with their online “habitats”, to give consumers a visually consistent browsing experience. Read on for advice on how to ensure these “native” ads remain identifiable as advertisements, to avoid falling foul of the Code.

Distinguish ads from editorial content

People spend a lot of time reading articles online, so it’s reasonable to place your ads on an editorial platform. However, when ads are presented in the same format as editorial content, and appear in a visually similar context on a website, it’s particularly important to label them clearly. Following an ASA challenge, the ASA recently ruled on whether an advertorial for Michelin Tyre plc in association with Telegraph Media which appeared on the Telegraph website, was obviously identifiable as an ad. They also ruled on whether an advertorial for Henkel Ltd in association with Buzzfeed Ltd which appeared on the Buzzfeed site, was obviously identifiable as an ad, following a complaint from a member of the public. Both cases were Upheld, on the grounds that the ads weren’t obviously identifiable as such, and weren’t sufficiently clearly distinguished from the editorial content.

There are various ways of separating ads from editorials, be it through use of graphics or audio effects. Since “native” ads are particularly likely to blend in with their editorial surroundings, a clear and prominent label makes all the difference.

What’s in a label?

In the case of advertorials, the ASA Council has ruled that labels such as “sponsored”, “in association with”, “Recommended by” and “Brand Publisher” were not sufficient to identify them as marketing communications.

This also applies to the hyperlinked thumbnails that appear underneath or alongside editorials, which are commonly titled “You may also like these” or “More from around the web”. In their ruling on Outbrain Inc in 2014, the ASA Council stated that these disclaimers didn’t make sufficiently clear that they link to marketing communications.

The Industry Advisory Panel (IAP) (at the time, known as the General Media Panel (GMP)) suggested that “paid for ad”, “ad” or “ad link” are likely to be acceptable instead. Although not all of these terms have been ruled on by the ASA Council, to make their marketing communications recognisable, advertisers are best advised to label their contextually branded content in this manner.

Don’t be afraid to shout about it

Advertisers should also make sure that these labels are prominently placed. A complaint against Marcândi Ltd was Not Upheld because the ASA Council noted a banner at the top of the relevant page stated "The page that you are currently reading is an ad feature”. If a disclaimer is prominently placed at the top of the ad, or right above the link to the relevant article, you’ll have demonstrated that you’re making sure consumers know what they’re reading.

Read the ASA Chief Executive, Guy Parker’s opinion piece on native advertising and how ASA rulings insist on unambiguously clear disclosure.

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