Stream, watch, advertise? Advice for advertising on YouTube

YouTube, which is now coming up for its 20th birthday, has become one of the most familiar online video services. There’s something for everyone on the platform, from toddlers to older people, and this varied audience offers advertisers some brilliant opportunities from brand channels to pre-roll ads - but it can also make it easy for them to be tripped up by the ad rules.

The CAP Code rules are largely media neutral – ads shouldn’t harm, offend, or mislead wherever they appear, and YouTube is no exception to that. So read on for some advice for advertising on YouTube - you might be tempted, but don’t skip your ad responsibilities! 

What are we watching?

Viewers should know if what they are watching is an ad: 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. 

The ASA takes the view that any YouTube video that simply “thanks” a sponsor, especially in the context of a vlog style ad, does not spell out clearly enough that the content is advertising.

For more detailed guidance on the principles, see the ‘Influencers’ guide to making clear that ads are ads’ and our previous article here.

What rules apply to YouTube videos? Well, they all do!

There’s a significant crossover between YouTube and TV ads, video-on-demand ads, and even posters. This inevitably means that the ASA is investigating the same issues in YouTube ads as it is for more traditional media. In terms of misleadingness, the need to be able to substantiate your claims is no less important for these new forms of media as it is for press and posters. 

From alcohol to gambling to motoring, there are also plenty of specific rules and prohibitions that apply to different ads and products and these apply equally on YouTube. In addition, ads need to be legal and responsible to make sure viewers don’t come to harm. 

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. For more on this topic, see our resources here.

And who is watching it?

Advertisers need to make sure they know their audience and where their ads will end up. Ads featuring swearing, drugs and alcohol references shouldn’t appear during videos that appeal to children. It can often be the case that ads might be appropriate to show before very limited content on YouTube; namely, other videos of a similar genre. For example, although the ASA ruled that this ad was offensive and distressing, if it had been more carefully targeted, it might not have generated complaints.

Knowing your audience is especially important when it comes to age-restricted products such as gambling and alcohol.  We all know children are huge fans of YouTube, and no-one wants them to be exposed to ads they shouldn’t see. We know that devices, and even sometimes accounts, are often shared by multiple people from the same household, including children, so it’s not enough to rely on self-reported age or the fact that an age-appropriate account was logged in – you also need to take into account the type of content that the ad appears around. 


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. Our Copy Advice team are also on hand to provide bespoke advice on any YouTube campaigns.

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