The Liverpool Echo website www.liverpoolecho.co.uk, featured what appeared to be an article with the headline “Currys PC World launches its incredible Black Friday 2018 deals with £600 off TVs”. A subheading stated “Products from brands such as Sony, Hotpoint, HP and Nintendo are included”. In the sixth paragraph of the article text stated “Stand out offers include Sony Bravia 55" Smart 4k Ultra HDR OLED TV which has been reduced by £600, the LG American-style Fridge Freezer which has been reduced by £400 and the HP 15 Core i7 Laptop has been reduced by £200”. Each of the names of the products in the article included a hyperlink to their listings on the Currys PC World website.
The complainant, who understood that the article was an advertisement by Currys PC World, challenged whether it was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
DSG Retail Ltd t/a Currys PC World said that the links that led to the Currys PC World website were connected to a partner in their affiliate programme who would have managed any commercial relationship with the Liverpool Echo. They said they did not have any control over the commercial aspect or the content.
Reach Plc t/a Liverpool Echo said it was an editorial piece; it was not produced as part of a paid arrangement between themselves and DSG Retail, who also had no control over the editorial content. They said Reach (Liverpool Echo’s parent company) had an arrangement with a third-party affiliate marketer whereby if someone clicked a link to a third-party website in an article that the affiliate provided, and subsequently a purchase was made, Reach would make a commission based on that sale. They said that affiliate marketer and DSG Retail Ltd had no editorial control. They said there was no paid arrangement with the third-party marketing affiliate that provided the links to the Currys PC World website nor did they have editorial control.
Liverpool Echo said Black Friday deals were of interest to readers of the website and, along with many other news outlets, they reported extensively on various deals as part of their editorial content.
Liverpool Echo said, while it focused on Currys PC World, it was not requested by, commissioned by, or endorsed by Currys PC World or the brands in the article, nor did they seek or gain their permission to run the article.
Liverpool Echo said as a result of the complaint they had reviewed their practices and policies to ensure that editorial articles which incorporated affiliate links (as opposed to hyperlinks to further information and related articles) were appropriately labelled. They said the article had been removed from the website and they were reviewing other content to ensure the same measures were applied where appropriate.
The CAP Code states that marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such. We understood the links in the article were affiliate links, from which the Liverpool Echo would receive commission for any sales generated by the retailer through their appearance on their website. Although the article included some general information about Black Friday, we considered the content was otherwise wholly concerned with the affiliate linked products. It was therefore an ad for the purposes of the CAP Code, under which the commercial nature of that content should have been made clear prior to consumer engagement. We also noted that the article appeared among other editorial content on the Liverpool Echo, an established regional news provider, and it was therefore implied that the content (unless it was sufficiently distinguished as such) was entirely editorial.
We noted there was a banner at the top of the article, above the headline that stated “IN ASSOCIATION WITH REACH SOLUTIONS. Marketing solutions designed to grow your business”. The banner appeared above the headline and website map, outside the body of the article, which we considered would be interpreted as being part of the website’s architecture and not a feature of the story. In any case while we acknowledged that “IN ASSOCIATION WITH REACH SOLUTIONS. Marketing solutions designed to grow your business” may have served to show that a financial arrangement was in place, it was insufficient to identify the content specifically as advertising. We did not consider it counteracted the impression that the content was entirely editorial.
Although we welcomed Liverpool Echo’s assurance that the article had been removed and that other content with affiliate links were under review, because the marketing communication had not made clear its commercial intent we concluded that it breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 2.1 2.1 Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such. and 2.3 2.3 Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context. (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Currys PC World and Reach Plc to ensure that marketing communications were obviously identifiable as such.