The Department for Levelling Up placed seven newspaper advertorials in a variety of local and regional newspapers owned by Reach. These advertorials provided a description of what “levelling up” involves and what it would mean for the local area. Each of the advertorials were tailored for the local newspaper; for example, the advertorial in the Grimsby Telegraph was entitled “Levelling Up! What is it and what does it mean for Grimsby?“
Lisa Nandy MP and Alex Norris MP challenged whether these advertorials were obviously identifiable as marketing communications. In response to this challenge, the Department for Levelling Up and Reach argued that the advertorials were clearly labelled and obviously identifiable as marketing communications.
Reach confirmed that all seven of these advertorials were labelled in accordance with their house style and common practice across all of their titles. The advertorials were shown in the “Partner Stories” section of the newspaper’s websites, they included the wording “ADVERTORIAL” in a grey box at the top right-hand side of the webpage and the wording “Commercial Writer” in the by-line placed directly underneath the headline. All the advertorials included an infographic with the HM Government logo at the bottom of the article. The Department for Levelling Up and Reach considered that this advertorial labelling was both visible and prominent.
The ASA did not agree with this conclusion and upheld the complaint, finding that the advertorials had breached rules 2.1, 2.3 and 2.4 of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
The ASA acknowledged that attempts were made to identify these advertorials as marketing communications, but it did not believe Reach or the government department went far enough. The ASA believed that readers were likely to overlook the text that Reach and the department claimed identified the advertorial. For example, the label “ADVERTORIAL” at the top left of the webpage used font that was small and was placed within a grey tile with a line dividing that part of the page from the advertorial. This meant that this wording was not prominent enough to make it sufficiently clear that the linked article was an advertorial.
The ASA concluded that the “ads must not appear again in their current form” and that the Department for Levelling Up and Reach should ensure that “all future marketing communications were prominently and clearly identifiable as such“.
Why this matters:
The ASA’s ruling shows that all advertisers must be careful when ensuring that marketing communications are easily identifiable as such, and the importance of checking any labelling on a case-by-case basis rather than relying on standard policies.
The ruling is an important reminder that the ASA will review each advert on a case-by-case basis and will expect any visual or contextual signposts to be sufficiently prominent and clear before any reader engages with the advertorial content.