An advertorial for Asda, seen on the Mirror’s website www.mirror.co.uk, on 31 August 2017, appeared three-quarters of the way down a web page that began with an article titled “An actual Italian food theme park is opening in Italy and mamma mia hurry up and pass us our fork”. The advertorial was headed “Asda Partnership” in italic font which was the same size as the font used in the body of the article. The advertorial described Asda’s range of Italian food. Small text above the article title at the top of the page stated “Lifestyle > Travel > ASDA Partnership”.
The complainant, who understood the latter part of the web page was paid-for content, challenged whether the ad was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
ASDA Stores Ltd (Asda) said the editorial content and its format were produced by MGN. Under their arrangement, Asda provided only the product images and key product features; they did not provide other content or approval. However, they considered the content was clearly identifiable as an ad. They highlighted that it was headed “Asda Partnership”, and considered that heading was sufficiently prominent and provided a clear delineation between the editorial content and the advertising content, and that its reference to Asda’s name and the use of the term “Partnership” informed readers of their relationship with the Mirror.
MGN Ltd said that most of the article was editorial content produced by the Mirror as a news story, the contents of which were not approved by Asda. The latter part of the article was an ad on Asda’s behalf. The ad was clearly headed “Asda Partnership”, which they believed ensured readers would understand that it was an ad. The label identified the advertiser by name and made clear the relationship between Asda and the Mirror through use of the term “Partnership”. They believed readers would therefore read the ad, in the context of its appearance within an editorial feature, much as they would a commercial break. The labelling was placed before the content of the ad, ensuring readers could decide whether or not to engage with the ad.
MGN considered their readers were well-informed consumers who would have recognised and understood that the latter part of the article was an ad, and believed there was nothing in the content of the ad that ran contrary to its labelling or which could cause confusion to readers.
The ASA first assessed whether the content was an advertorial, and accordingly within the remit of the Code. The Code defined an advertorial as an advertisement feature, where the content was controlled by the marketer, not the publisher, and was disseminated in exchange for payment or other reciprocal relationship.
We understood the content had been produced as part of a financial agreement between Asda and MGN, and we were therefore satisfied that the content was disseminated in exchange for payment. In assessing the degree of control Asda had over the content, we noted that Asda had provided key messaging to MGN in the form of product images, product descriptions which included marketing messaging, and links to the products on Asda’s website. While we understood that Asda did not have final editorial or other approval, we considered that in practice they had control of the content. We also noted that the content published by MGN differed only marginally from that provided to them by Asda. We considered the content therefore was an advertorial as defined by the Code.
We next considered whether the advertorial was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication. The advertorial appeared partway down a web page, following an editorial article to which it had related content. We considered that this approach would likely be acceptable so long as the advertorial content was clearly delineated from the editorial content, so that consumers could choose whether or not to engage with the advertising content.
We acknowledged that text above the article title at the top of the page stated “Lifestyle > Travel > ASDA Partnership”, but considered that because it was in small grey font, readers’ attention was likely to be drawn to the much larger article headline directly below it. While we considered that the phrase “ASDA Partnership” did imply some sort of arrangement with Asda, we considered it did not adequately convey the commercial nature of the content to consumers. We considered the text at the top of the ad was therefore not sufficient to ensure that readers would understand that the web page contained advertorial content.
Notwithstanding that, because the web page presented editorial content above/before the advertorial content, we considered it was not necessary for the web page to include an indicator at the top of the page that it included advertising content, so long as there was such an indicator between the editorial and advertorial content.
As referenced above, we considered the term “Asda Partnership”, which appeared between the editorial and advertorial content, did not adequately convey the commercial nature of the advertorial content to consumers. Furthermore, while that text was in italics, because it was in the same size and colour font as the body font of the ad and was spaced in the same way as other lines of text, plus there were no other clear delineations or markers to indicate a switch in the nature of the content (e.g. a line across the page, a space-break, a change in the colour palette), it was not sufficiently prominent to ensure that consumers would understand that the following text was advertorial content as opposed to a continuation of the editorial content. For those reasons we concluded the advertorial content was not obviously recognisable as a marketing communication and therefore breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.1 2.1 Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such. and 2.4 2.4 Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications; for example, by heading them "advertisement feature". (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told ASDA Stores Ltd and MGN Ltd to ensure that ads were obviously identifiable as marketing communications, including that in future they should not use the term “[Marketer] Partnership” to describe advertorials, and must ensure that advertorial content was clearly and prominently delineated from editorial content.