Two 27-minute long-form TV ads called "the IT Factor" by Etna World Trade Consortium, a consortium that promoted Italian goods and culture abroad, seen on 14 November 2016:
a. The first ad, seen at 8.00pm, began with what appeared to be a seven-second sponsorship credit which featured an image of the Etna World Trade Logo in the corner of the ad. There was then a 60-second opening title sequence which featured the title "the IT Factor", and included on-screen text stating "Advertisement feature" for the first six seconds. The ad featured a number of different segments about various different Italian-based beauty-related products. The segments included interviews with members of the public, a beauty and make-up expert, a store manager and an Italian manufacturer. After approximately every 80 seconds, the on-screen text "Advertisement feature" appeared for around five seconds. During the middle of the ad, the sponsorship credits re-appeared, followed by the London Live logo and music. There then followed a traditional ad-break including a number of traditional short third-party ads and a promotion for a London Live TV programme, before the sponsorship credits again. After 27 minutes, the ad ended with closing credits.
b. The second ad, which was seen at 8:30pm, followed the same structure as the first ad with a focus on footwear. It also contained an opening title sequence, closing credits, a traditional ad-break in the middle of the ad and what appeared to be sponsorship credits at the beginning. During approximately every 80 seconds, the ad featured on-screen text which stated "advertisement feature".
The EPG (electronic programme guide) listing for both ads stated "Skilled artisanship with exceptional cultural heritage, IT Factor showcases Italian influence on London from fashion to cutting-edge technology, the aroma of our coffee & icons of design. Ad feature".
The complainant, who believed the ads had been formatted like a TV programme with an opening title sequence, closing credits and traditional ad-breaks in the middle, challenged whether the ads were obviously distinguishable from editorial content.
London Live said that the ads formed part of their advertising strand, "The IT Factor", which advertised various Italian products and services available in London. They emphasised that under the terms of their Ofcom L-DPTS licence, they sat outside the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, and were therefore exempt from ad minutage restrictions. They explained that they were therefore entitled to broadcast ads of any length. They said that given the long length and narrative structure, it was inevitable that long-form advertisements would share certain similarities with editorial programming. However, they had put time and thought into approving a suitable format for long-form advertisements to ensure that viewers were not confused. They understood that, for the purposes of BCAP rule 2.1, so long as an advertisement was clearly labelled as such, the fact that it may contain features reminiscent of editorial content was irrelevant.
London Live stated that the on-screen text "advertisement feature" appeared in large prominent letters in the bottom centre of the screen, and appeared intermittently throughout the ad and therefore they believed it made clear the content was advertising to viewers. In addition, the EPG listing also used the term "ad feature". They believed that the EPG listing in conjunction with the on-screen text were adequate signposts to ensure that the audience would quickly recognise the message as advertising. They also added that they had not had any other complaints about the issue, despite the ads having been watched by several thousand viewers.
World Trade Consortium Etna supported London Live's response.
The ASA acknowledged that local TV channels were exempt from ad minutage restrictions unlike national channels, meaning that they were entitled to broadcast advertisements of any duration. Nevertheless, local TV stations were still required to comply with rule 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. of the BCAP Code which required that "advertisements must be obviously distinguishable from editorial content … especially if they use a style reminiscent of editorial content" and that the "audience should quickly recognise the message as an advertisement". In other words, it had to be obvious to viewers who tuned in at any time during the course of the ads that they were watching advertising material and not editorial programming.
The ads lasted for 30 minutes each (including third-party ad breaks), which was an unusual duration for advertising, and a common duration of many TV programmes. They included products by several different companies, although long sections of both ads contained no direct promotions for specific products or brands. We considered that both those elements were very unusual for advertising. The format of the ads with two hosts carrying out a series of informal interviews in various locations was reminiscent of some forms of editorial programming. The ads also featured what appeared to be sponsorship credits, an opening title sequence and closing credits. We considered that viewers would habitually associate each of those features with editorial content, and that many viewers might never have come across them in an advertisement before. During the middle of both ads there were conventional ad breaks, with a series of third-party ads that lasted for around 30 seconds each. We considered that viewers would also habitually recognise such ad breaks as content that sat within editorial programming, and therefore their placement within long-form ads was likely to cause confusion to viewers. Because the ads contained a number of features that would cause viewers to assume they were watching editorial programming, we considered that the ads needed to contain clear, prominent signposts to ensure that they were obviously distinguishable from editorial content and the audience would quickly recognise the messages as advertising.
We noted that on-screen text which stated "advertisement feature" appeared intermittently (roughly every 70–80 seconds) for around five seconds at a time throughout the duration of both ads, including at the beginning of the opening title sequences for both ads and as soon as the ads returned after the third-party ad breaks. However, the text was in a faint white colour and could, therefore, have easily not been noticed by many viewers. Furthermore, given that viewers would likely start watching at different points during the 30-minute ads, we considered that the intermittent appearance of the on-screen text was not sufficient to ensure that it was obvious to viewers who tuned in at different times. We also considered that the gaps between when the on-screen text appeared could have caused viewers to think that "ad feature" referred to a form of product placement or short ad within editorial programming. It was also not adequate enough to make clear that the entirety of the 30-minute content was a paid-for advertisement.
We understood that the ads had an EPG listing, which stated "The IT Factor. Skilled artisanship with exceptional cultural heritage, IT Factor showcases Italian influence on London from fashion to cutting-edge technology, the aroma of our coffee & icons of design. Ad feature". While we acknowledged that the end of the listings included the qualification "ad feature", we considered that many viewers would only view the title of the EPG listing and not the accompanying text, and so would not see the qualification "ad feature". Other viewers, such as those who were already watching the previous programme on London Live, and those whose TV sets did not automatically generate the EPG listing when changing channel, might not have viewed the EPG listing at all. It was not, therefore, sufficient to rely on the EPG listings alone to make the content obviously distinguishable from editorial content.
As the ads contained a number of features that would cause viewers to assume that they were watching editorial programming, the ads needed to contain clear, prominent signposts to ensure that it was obvious to viewers that the content was advertising material and not editorial. However, because the on-screen text "advertisement feature" only appeared intermittently throughout the ads in a faint font that lacked prominence, and because the qualification "ad feature" in the EPG listings would not have been seen by many viewers, we concluded that the ads were not obviously distinguishable from editorial content such that the audience was unlikely to quickly recognise the messages as advertising.
The ad breached rule 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. (Recognition of advertising) of the BCAP Code.
The ads must not appear again in their current forms. We told World Trade Consortium Etna to amend their ads so that they were obviously distinguishable from editorial content.