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Flogging while vlogging – advertising restrictions in video blogs

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 07 December 2015
  2. Miscellaneous
  3. 0 comments
Vlogging and making money

Video blogging (or vlogging), is like, the hot new thing, or it has been for about ten years, at least.

There are an elite few vlogs which garner enough views to make their authors some real-world money through sponsorship deals, pushing certain brands and products in their videos.

This might seem harmless enough – however, go about it the wrong way, and you could find yourself in hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Controversy over an oreo promotion

This issue came to a head last year after a promotion by Oreo, in which they paid several vloggers to conduct a so-called “lick race”, in which participants would compete to see who could remove an Oreo’s sweet filling most quickly, using only their tongues.

However, while most of the YouTubers in question had taken steps to mention that Oreo had provided them with the materials for the lick race and had thanked them, the ASA ruled that the videos had failed to meet the requirement of being “obviously identifiable as marketing communications”.

As the disclosures appeared at the end of the videos and/or in the video description, viewers would likely only learn of the commercial nature of the videos once they had already engaged with them.

The controversy evokes memories of similar advertising controversy from back in 2012, when sponsored tweets by celebrities such as Katie Price and Rio Ferdinand were subject to complaints.

The tweets, sponsored by Snickers, spun improbable yarns in which the celebrities purported to have interests and opinions in subjects incongruous with their public personas. On this occasion, the ASA decided that no rules had been broken.

2014 also saw the first time that online ads received more complaints overall than television adverts, with 13,477 complaints, a 35% increase on the previous year (although the number of ads complained about was actually down).

What are the rules now?

In the wake of the Oreo controversy, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) have issued a set of advertising guidelines for vloggers.

Under the guidelines, the Oreo videos would be considered “advertorials” – the brand has control over the content of the video, but it is still presented in the vlogger’s usual style.

Advertorials need to be labelled as advertisements in such a way that a viewer would understand it is an advert before watching it – the best way to be sure about this is to label it as such in the title.

Here are some other important points:

  • Advertorials are different from “sponsored” videos – in a sponsored video, the brand would have no control over the content.
  • Sponsored videos do not need to be labelled as carefully as advertorials, but you should avoid using the word “sponsor” to refer to an advertorial.
  • A vlogger should make it clear if one of their videos is dedicated to promoting one of their own products, although including “ad” in the title would not necessarily be needed – something like “come see me on my tour” would probably be sufficient.
  • If a vlogger is paid to use a certain product in an otherwise editorial video (i.e. product placement), this should be clarified as it happens during the video – for example, you could have text saying “ad” appearing on the screen, or you could just explain that you were paid to include this product.
  • Ad and sponsorship notifications do not need to be presented in a formal manner, if this would not match the tone of the rest of your videos – as long as it is clear, you can present the notification in a style that suits your video.

What is the punishment for violating the rules?

In addition to receiving complaints, the CAP also proactively monitor ads on the internet to ensure that they comply with the Code, and that the required standards are being maintained.

If an advert breaches the Code, they can be withdrawn or amended. The ASA would usually ask the advertiser for reassurance that the breach will be rectified.

If this is not done, the ASA have the power to place Ad alerts where it will draw the media’s attention to the problematic advertiser.

Other bodies, such as Trading Standards or Ofcom, may also be informed if an advert breaches the rules.

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