New guidance aimed at distinguishing digital advertising from editorial content

Out-Law News | 09 Feb 2015 | 4:32 pm | 2 min. read

Businesses should ensure that 'native advertising' developed on their behalf has prominent "visible visual cues" that allow consumers to immediately identify it as marketing material, under new industry guidance.

The 'visual cues' recommendation is one of three principles the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB) has urged brand owners to follow (6-page / 645KB PDF) when engaging third parties to produce marketing materials "via a native distribution format".

The object of 'native advertising' is to blend adverts seamlessly with content to increase the chance that they will click on the advert. Examples include paid for sponsorships, advertisement features and in-feed distribution.

The IAB said that £216 million was spent on native advertising last year, more than a fifth of total UK digital advertising spend. It said its new guidance should improve transparency over the existence of native advertising in a digital context.

"Paid-for advertising units which are deliberately designed to replicate the look and feel of the editorial content that they appear against need to be obvious to consumers,” Alex Stepney, public policy manager at the IAB, said. "The guidelines help companies involved in developing and publishing such native ad formats to provide the necessary levels of transparency to consumers and uphold the integrity of online advertising."

The IAB said that businesses can comply with the 'visual cues' principle by ensuring their brand's logo is deployed " either around or within the native format, to clearly display the brand’s association to the content" or by use different fonts or shading or other formatting techniques to distinguish the native advertising from accompanying editorial content.

The new guidance also calls for publishers or providers of a native advertising format to use "a reasonably visible label" that uses language that demonstrates "a commercial arrangement is in place". The IAB said the businesses should test how consumers interpret their labels "as readers/users will have different expectations of language of different publishers/platforms".

The IAB's third native advertising principle requires brand owners to ensure their native advertising adheres to UK consumer protection laws and advertising rules.

Copy clearance expert Bernadine Nordmann of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that brand owners looking for innovative ways of marketing online and through social media as consumers become increasingly accustomed to digital advertising must retain awareness of the underlying regulatory framework.

"The existing rules still apply and the Advertising Standards Authority has applied the CAP Code and upheld complaints where marketers are not clear to consumers that content is advertising," Nordmann said. "Clear labelling is recommended so that marketers are not in breach of the Code.”

UK rules on online advertising, set out in the CAP Code, require marketing communications to be "obviously identifiable as such" and for so-called 'advertorials' to be clearly identifiable as marketing communications.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations prohibit unfair commercial practices, which include making 'misleading omissions'. This refers to practices where businesses omit or hide material information, provide it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner, or fails to make it clear they have a commercial intent.

The IAB's new guidance is backed by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), Association for Online Publishers (AOP) and the Content Marketing Association (CMA).

Ian Twinn, director of public affairs at ISBA, said the guidance was an example of "advertising self-regulation that delivers consumer transparency around advertiser funding of digital media".