An advertorial seen on DailyTopLinks.com promoting Sky Bingo Casino featured text that stated, “EXCLUSIVE REPORT: ABERDEEN CITY MCDONALD’S EMPLOYEE WINS £296,121 ON HER LUNCH BREAK …”. Slightly below this was smaller text that stated “Published on 24-01-2017 By Christine Perry, Daily News UK …”. The advertorial then featured the text “Amelia Smith showed up for her morning shift at McDonald’s like any other day, but what happened on her break would change her life forever …”. The advertorial stated how she had won the quoted amount of money and detailed the hardships she had endured before she won her winnings.
At the bottom of the advertorial was text that stated “DailyTopLinks.com is a general interest website containing articles about a wide variety of subjects. Many of these articles are what is [sic] commonly referred to as Advertorials. THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT AND NOT AN ACTUAL NEWS ARTICLE, BLOG, OR CONSUMER PROTECTION UPDATE. The term "advertorial" is a combination of "advertisement" and "editorial" written in an editorial format as an independent news story, when in fact the advertisement may promote a particular product or interest. Advertorials take factual information and report it in an editorial format to allow the author, often a company marketing its products, to enhance or explain certain elements to maintain the reader's interest. A familiar example is an airline's in-flight magazines that provide an [sic] editorial reports about travel destinations to which the airline flies”.
The complainant challenged whether the advertorial was clearly identified as a marketing communication.
Bonne Terre Ltd t/a Sky Bingo stated that the advertorial was posted by a third-party affiliate (Moojah Ltd) who had breached their contractual obligations to Sky Bingo, which had no involvement in creating the ad’s content nor had it been authorised by them.
Once Sky Bingo was notified of the complaint they contacted the affiliate to ensure that the advertorial was immediately taken down. Furthermore, they told the affiliate that the ad was not acceptable and would not be tolerated by Sky Bingo. Consequently, the ad was removed on the same day Sky Bingo received the complaint from the ASA.
Sky Bingo stated that they were dedicated to ensuring that their marketing was compliant, and had a robust marketing approval process together with on-going training for all employees involved in marketing. Affiliates were contractually required to comply with the advertising codes and have all ads approved by Sky Bingo in advance. On this occasion the advertorial had not been submitted to Sky Bingo for clearance and if it had been, would not have passed their approvals process. Furthermore, Sky Bingo monitored their affiliates’ activities using third-party software and also sent them regular communications with regard to compliance.
The ASA acknowledged that Sky Bingo had procedures in place requiring affiliates to submit their ads for approval before publication. On this occasion, Moojah Ltd had not followed that process and consequently, Sky Bingo had not authorised the ad.
However, we noted that CAP Code rule 1.8 stated that primary responsibility for observing the Code fell on marketers, and that others involved in preparing or publishing marketing communications, such as agencies, publishers and other service suppliers, also accepted an obligation to abide by the Code.
The ASA noted that the advertorial was presented like a news article with a headline at the top along with smaller size text underneath it stating, “Published on 24-01-2017 By Christine Perry, Daily News UK …”. The advertorial then told a story about how a woman named “Amelia Smith” had won £296,121 from Sky Bingo and detailed the hardships she had endured before she won her winnings. We considered that this initially implied that the advertorial was an editorial piece which had been written by an independent party.
After reading the whole advertorial, and provided consumers scrolled further down the web page, they would see small print located at the very bottom explaining that the article was an advertorial, which was “AN ADVERTISEMENT AND NOT AN ACTUAL NEWS ARTICLE …”. However, we noted before consumers would read the actual content that the top of the advertorial did not feature a header identifying it as an ad. If it had been prominently presented, we consider it would have immediately clarified to consumers from the outset that they would be reading an ad rather than editorial content.
Because of that, we considered that consumers were likely to understand that the advertorial was editorial content and we therefore concluded that the ad had not been clearly identified as a marketing communication.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules, 1.8 (Compliance), 2.1 and 2.4 (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Sky Bingo that their future advertorials must be clearly identified as marketing communications.