A podcast ad for Huel, heard in March 2022, during an episode of Steven Bartlett’s podcast The Diary Of A CEO on Spotify, titled “World’s Leading Psychologist: How To Detach From Overthinking and Anxiety: Dr Julie Smith E122”. The ad began at approximately 31 minutes into the podcast. A page of a book was audibly heard turning and Mr Bartlett said, “Quick one. For many years people have been asking for a coffee flavoured Huel and quite recently Huel released the ice coffee caramel flavour of their ready to drink Huel. And I have just become hooked on it over the last couple of weeks. I have been on a really interesting journey with Huel which I have described and talked about on this podcast. I started with the berry ready to drinks, then I moved over to the protein salted caramel because it is 100 calories and it gives you all your essential vitamins and minerals but also gives you the 20 odd grams of protein you need. And now I am balanced between them both. I drink mostly the banana flavoured ready to drink. I have got really into the ice coffee caramel flavour of Huel’s ready to drink and I am drinking that as well as the protein. Make sure you try the new ready to drink flavours. The caramel flavour’s amazing, the new banana flavour as well is amazing and obviously as I said the iced coffee caramel flavour has been a real smash hit so check it out. Let me know what you think on social media. I see all of your tags, tweets and Instagram posts on Huel. Back to the podcast.” A page of a book was audibly heard turning. The description of the podcast had text that stated, “Sponsor: Huel - https://my.huel.com/Steven”.
IssueThe complainant challenged whether the ad was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
Huel Ltd said that they took their responsibilities under the CAP Code very seriously and believed the podcast did not include an ad because they had no editorial control over its content. They confirmed that while there was a financial arrangement in place with Steven Bartlett, the terms were not prescriptive and any reference to Huel was decided by the Diary of a CEO team rather than Huel. In addition, they said there was no “affiliate” relationship in place because Steven Bartlett did not receive any direct benefit from any products purchased by a consumer when they clicked on the link, i.e. Huel did not pay Mr Bartlett a fee for each product which was purchased through the link.
Huel said that the disputed section began with an audible page turn, the introduction then started with the wording “Quick one” (and ended with “back to the podcast”) and the tone in the segment clearly changed. They said that those elements clearly signposted the endorsement. Further to that, they said Steven Bartlett’s creative style was consistent across all of The Diary of a CEO podcasts. Followers of the podcast therefore would understand the described markers as the start and end of an ad break and a more explicit reference was not needed.
Huel said that, while they did not believe that the podcast was an ad, they appreciated the importance of the issue raised and The Diary of a CEO team had added wording, after ASA contact, at the start of the endorsement to further support the existing markers.
Steven Bartlett said that while Huel sponsored the podcast they did not have editorial control over the ad. In addition, he said the hyperlink to Huel in the podcast description was not an affiliate link because he did not receive any direct benefit from any products purchased by a consumer through the link.
Steven Bartlett said when the ad was recorded he believed it was compliant with advertising regulations because the advertising content differed from the editorial in tone. In addition, they had included the sound effect of a booking turning and used the wording “Quick one” and “Back to the podcast” to distinguish the start and end of the ad.
Steven Bartlett stated that he had worked with Huel and his podcast many times in the past, had always made it clear when there was an ad, and his listeners were aware of the relationship. However, in an effort to resolve the complaint proactively they had amended the ad. They had changed the beginning to state, “Quick one. As you know Huel sponsor this podcast” so that listeners would immediately know that the section was an ad from their sponsor. They also moved the listing of Huel as a sponsor to the top of the description of the podcast.
The ASA acknowledged that Steven Bartlett took steps to try and distinguish the advertising content from the rest of the podcast. However, the CAP Code stated that marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such, and that they must make clear their commercial intent if that was not obvious from the context. The ASA noted Huel’s comment that they sponsored the podcast and so while Steven Bartlett was paid by Huel, they had no editorial control over the podcast and there was no affiliate link. Although the ASA had not seen whether the contract between the parties included clauses which represented any such control, the ASA understood that Steven Bartlett was in any case a non-executive director at Huel and therefore, had a commercial relationship with the brand, in addition to the payment arrangement for the podcast. The podcast also included a link in the description that allowed consumers to purchase products from the Huel website. Because the content of the podcast promoted Huel products and was directly connected to the supply of goods through the link in the description, we considered that the podcast was a marketing communication which fell within the ASA’s remit. We therefore did not need to assess further the extent of editorial control Huel had over the podcast.
We considered that it should be obvious that any advertising feature was an ad and that information was delivered in a timely fashion. The ad began with the audible sound of a page turning and the wording, “Quick one. For many years people have been asking for a coffee flavoured Huel …” We noted that the beginning of the section did not include any upfront wording that obviously identified it as an ad. We further considered that the page-turn sound effects at the beginning and end were brief and quiet and therefore had the potential to be missed or overlooked. In addition, while some listeners may have noted the sound effect it was not immediately obvious that it indicated a change in the content or that the change was a segue to advertising material. This was compounded by Steven Bartlett voicing the advertising content in a similar style and tone to the editorial material and therefore not differing significantly between the two. We therefore concluded that the commercial intent behind the ad was not made clear upfront and it was not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.1 2.1 Advertisements must be obviously distinguishable from editorial content, especially if they use a situation, performance or style reminiscent of editorial content, to prevent the audience being confused between the two. The audience should quickly recognise the message as an advertisement. 2.3 2.3 The use of a title, logo, set or music associated with a programme that is broadcast on that medium needs special care. The audience should quickly recognise the message as an advertisement. and 2.4 2.4 Television only – Television advertisements, except for programme promotions, must not: (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Huel Ltd and Steven Bartlett to ensure that they made clear the commercial intent of advertising content in podcasts in future, for example by including a clear and prominent identifier such as “advertisement” and making sure the break from editorial content to the ad was clearly and audibly identified.