Vlogs and advertising
What are the rules for vlog advertising and who should be concerned about them?
Video blogging (vlogging) is a global phenomenon which has catapulted many to (online) stardom. Anyone can ‘vlog’ – all you need is a camera, an internet connection and something to say. Some vloggers (like Zoella and Alfie Deyes) will have millions of subscribers and such is their influence, in particular with younger consumers, that they may be paid significant sums (in money or free goods) to promote products and brands. However, businesses wishing to associate themselves with vloggers need to keep within the rules, or risk fines and potentially damaging negative publicity.
Following a landmark Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling from 2014 on 5 YouTube vlogs featuring Oreos, the ASA issued guidance last year to clarify the differences between (and the way its rules apply to) independent editorial content on a product, and advertising copy. This guidance applies to blogs and other online content in the same way that it applies to vlogs.
The key difference between an advertisement (which falls within the ASA’s authority) and editorial content (which does not), is the level of control which the brand has. If you were to send a vlogger or other content creator samples of your product, or pay them, based on an informal agreement that they mention you favourably, their content would be an advertisement. On the other hand, you might sponsor content, or provide free items, without any control over the content, which would not fall within the ASA’s authority. Sponsoring content would usually involve the vlogger giving a “nod” to the sponsor, but a simple disclosure of the commercial relationship the vlogger has with the sponsor should usually be sufficient here.
Adverts must be obviously identifiable
Many viewers will recognise the difference between pre-roll adverts on a Youtube channel and the content of the video itself. However, some adverts, particularly “native” adverts or “advertorials” in which products are seamlessly embedded and often indistinguishable from the editorial content of the vlog itself, are harder to identify. It needs to be made clear which parts of the video are adverts and which are the vlogger’s own content.
Timing is everything
Viewers must be told that they are going to watch an advert when it comes on screen. This means that all adverts must be labelled from the outset so that the viewer can make an informed choice as to whether to watch it nor not. This may involve classifying the video as an advert, or indeed an upfront admission on the part of the vlogger that they are being paid to produce the video or promote a product. Stating at the end of the vlog that certain products were included because the vlogger was paid to promote them will no longer suffice.
Labels must be clear to the viewer
The vlog needs to be clear that the vlogger is being paid for promoting a certain product. This doesn’t need to be done formally – it can match the vlogger’s personal style – but it needs to be clear which parts of the content are paid for by advertisers and which are authentic opinions held by the vlogger.
To whom do the rules apply?
Although the ASA’s guidance is not binding, the rules upon which it is based are (such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Committee of Advertising Practice Code (CAP). The ASA’s authority is far reaching and applies to all UK advertisements, sales promotions, and direct marketing. No matter how small your enterprise, you must be aware of the ASA’s rules if you have a commercial relationship with a vlogger or other content provider. The rules must be followed by all advertisers agencies and other media producers.
What happens if the rules are not complied with?
The vast majority of advertisers abide by the ASA rules.
However, where a complaint is made, upheld by the ASA and the advert or marketing communication is not changed or taken down voluntarily, the ASA may impose sanctions to enforce compliance. The reputational damage may be even more significant.