Online #ads under the spotlight

Posted on 11 April 2018 by Nin O'Sullivana

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The Advertising Standards Authority has issued a call for evidence into how consumers recognise online ads, and the labelling that is used. This is the first stage in a project which will see the ASA also commission its own research, and which may lead to revisions to the way such ads are regulated in the future.

The ASA says the project is necessary because, as more and more advertisers enter into commercial relationships with online influencers and publishers, there has been a blurring of the lines between advertising and editorial content. This has forced consumers to take on the role of 'detective' in order to recognise that something is, in fact, an ad (which many, no doubt, do not actually turn their mind to).

In particular, the ASA is looking for research (as opposed to individual opinions) in relation to the following issues concerning influencer and native advertising:

  • The level and type of commercial influence over editorial content people expect to be informed about, through an ad label or other method
  • How people interpret specific labels such as #ad, and the extent to which factors such as wording, placement, visibility, and style might impact on this such as in the following contexts:
    • Paid-for ads and posts on social media platforms
    • Native content on online news websites
    • Content discovery network ads appearing on e.g., news websites
    • Recommendation engines in online retail environments
    • Influencer marketing e.g., on social media platforms, blogs and vlogs
  • The extent to which groups differ in their abilities to identify ads
  • Current practices for labelling online ads, given the variety of means available

The ASA issued updated guidance on affiliate marketing and influencers in March 2017. Given the increased focus on social media and trust, we can expect to see more oversight and potential enforcement action in coming months. The call for evidence closes on 13 April.

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