Who: CTN Solutions Ltd (“CTN”); uk-phone.com; easyJet; the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”).
When: 28 January 2015
Law stated as at: 13 March 2015
In the wake of recent ASA decisions that video blogs (“vlogs”) linked with a brand’s products have failed to adequately make viewers aware that a vlog is a marketing communication, CAP has issued new guidance on vlogs.
The overarching rule is as follows – if a vlogger:
- creates a vlog
- the content of which is controlled by a brand (rather than the vlogger themselves)
- in exchange for payment or another incentive such as free items,
then the vlog is an advertising feature and must be clearly labelled as such if not already obvious from the context.
CAP’s guidance sets out the following eight scenarios where vloggers and brands might work together and it gives a view on whether or not the vlog might need to be labelled as an ad, using an identifier such as #ad.
- Online marketing by a brand
Scenario: a brand collaborates with a vlogger who vlogs about the brand or its products. This is uploaded to the brand’s own channels and shared by the brand.
Recommendation: There is no need to label with “ad” as it is clearly a marketing communication from the the context. (Note, if it is published or shared by the vlogger themselves, the situation will change and scenario 2 below will apply).
- “Advertorial” vlogs
Scenario: The vlog is in the usual style of the vlogger, but content is controlled by the brand and vlogger has been paid/incentivised.
Recommendation: As this is an advertorial, it needs to be labelled upfront (e.g. “ad”, “ad feature” or “advertorial”) so viewers are aware it is an advertorial before they engage. Such labelling should occur in the title or on the thumbnail image – labelling in the description box lower down the video page alone is likely to be insufficient. Labels such as “sponsored”, “supported by…” or “funded by…” are not suitable as this implies the brand sponsors the vlog but has no control of content.
- Commercial breaks within vlogs
Scenario: Most of the vlog is the independent, non-paid-for opinion of the vlogger, with a specific section dedicated to a product.
Recommendation: As this is independent content, an ad label in title is unnecessary, however it needs to be clear when the ad part starts. This can be done by having onscreen text saying “ad” or “ad feature”, holding up a sign, incorporating the brand’s logo or getting the vlogger to state that they have been paid to talk about the product at the appropriate time.
- Product placement
Scenario: Independent content which also features a commercial message (e.g. a product used in a vlog along with a message controlled by the brand in an otherwise independent vlog, such as a make-up tutorial where the vlogger features a specific lipstick).
Recommendation: It is unlikely that the title would need to be labelled as an ad. However the commercial nature of the relevant message should be clear. Again, this can be done by having “ad” or “product placement” on screen, by holding up a sign or by the vlogger saying they’ve been paid by the brand to feature the product.
- Vlogger’s video about their own product
Scenario: The sole content of the vlog is a promotion of the vlogger’s own product or merchandise.
Recommendation: This is a marketing communication. As such viewers will need to be made aware of this before selecting it (i.e. by using a label in the title or on the thumbnail image). This can be done using “ad” or similar, or, as it is the vlogger’s own products, by giving the vlog which refers to the facto that the vlog is about the vlogger’s own product (e.g. “How to use my new make-up line”).
- Editorial referring to the vlogger’s products
Scenario: The vlogger refers to their own product during the course of otherwise independent content, (e.g. “I’m currently using the new headphones I’ve just released”).
Recommendation: It is unlikely that this will need labelling as an ad as it will be obvious from context.
Scenario: A brand sponsors a vlogger but has no control over content.
Recommendation: Sponsorship is not covered by the CAP Code so there is no requirement to label this as an ad. However the CMA would expect the commercial relationship to be disclosed in some form (although a reference to the sponsor would probably be sufficient for this).
- Free items
Scenario 1: A brand sends a vlogger items for free without any control of the content or other conditions attached. The vlogger may choose whether or not to include them in the vlog.
Recommendation: As there is no control of the vlog content, the video need not be labelled as an ad.
Scenario 2: A brand sends a vlogger items for free on the condition that they are reviewed (positively or negatively) without any control from the brand.
Recommendation: Under the CAP Code, the vlog need not be labelled as an ad, however the CMA would expect the vlogger to communicate that the product was given to the vlogger on the condition it is talked about so that viewers know it is being reviewed because the vlogger is being incentivised.
Why this matters
It should be noted that CAP’s guidance is not an exhaustive list of scenarios in which brands and vloggers could work together. However it underlines the importance of ensuring clarity to the viewer.
Given the high-profile nature of some of the recent ASA investigations and the increasing prominence and influence of vloggers on social media sites, brands should take the time to work out which scenario above applies. Having done so, they should take on board the relevant CAP recommendation in order to avoid any accusations that viewers have unknowingly been served ads.