The Internet Advertising Bureau has released a set of guidelines to help the marketing industry provide more transparency to consumers around digital advertorials. They aim to provide advertisers with clear and practical steps to make it easier for consumers to spot these types of digital ad formats designed to look and feel like editorial content.
Two key guidelines for content-based advertising
- Provide consumers with prominently visible visual cues enabling them to immediately understand they are engaging with marketing content (e.g. brand logos or names at the beginning of the content)
- It must be labelled using wording that demonstrates a commercial arrangement is in place (e.g. ‘paid promotion’ or ‘brought to you by’).
The guidelines are supported by ISBA – the voice of British advertisers – the Association for Online Publishers (AOP) and the Content Marketing Association (CMA). They meet the UK advertising industry’s CAP code, which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), to help businesses comply with existing UK advertising rules.
Where content and native ad spending is at
Content and native advertising spend – including paid for sponsorships, advertisement features and in-feed distribution – was worth £509 million in 2014, accounting for 22% of display ad spend, says the IAB.
“The guidelines draw heavily on established good practice in print media because people bring their experience and expectations of print to the digital environment,” said Christie Dennehy-Neil, Public Policy Manager at the IAB.
“People recognise online advertorial as the ‘modern’ version of what they’re used to seeing in print so they expect the same standards of distinctive labelling and identification online. The UK’s advertising rules are clear on this, and these guidelines provide practical ways for businesses to comply with them.”
How were the guidelines drawn up?
The guidelines are based on a study specifically commissioned by the IAB to understand consumer knowledge, attitudes and tolerance to content and native advertising. Conducted by research agency 2CV, it revealed:
- People decide to engage with content-based ads based on (1) how relevant the ad is to them (2) whether they’ll derive ‘value’ from it, as with editorial content and (3) if it’s clear who it’s from and if they trust the author, brand or publisher
- People’s trust in a brand or publisher can diminish if the origin of the content is unclear
- The characteristics consumers considered ‘good’ in making commercial content clear, such as:
- The advertiser logo being prominent, ideally at the start of the piece of content
- Clear labelling, e.g. ‘sponsored by’. Consumers weren’t so concerned about the exact wording, but did expect to see a label
- The way consumers ‘filter’ content as being paid for isn’t necessarily linear but visual cues help them do this immediately.
David Ellison, Marketing Services Manager at ISBA, said: “As digital content marketing continues to develop, it is crucial that it adheres to tried and tested UK advertising self-regulation. ISBA has worked closely with the IAB to produce these guidelines – which build on existing good practice – to help advertisers deliver the transparency that consumers demand.”
Tim Cain, the AOP’s Managing Director, said: “The continued success of digital advertising relies on positive consumer relationships built on trust. These guidelines demonstrate that advertisers and publishers take seriously their responsibility to provide transparency to their audiences.”
Will more transparency lead to more consumer trust?
“The real question is probably what will happen if there isn’t sufficient transparency. We know that transparency is critical to consumer trust. Quite rightly, people want advertisers to be responsible and transparent however and wherever they are interacting with them”, Christie Dennehy-Neil, Public Policy Manager at the IAB told us.
“They don’t want it to be a guessing game about whose messages they’re reading or watching. People’s trust is quickly eroded if they feel they are being misled and it only takes one wrong move to do real damage to the reputation of an advertiser, publisher, or online advertising more widely.”
What’s in store for the future of online ‘advertorials’ if these guidelines are to have impact?
“The need for clear identification of marketing is greater than ever as online content and native advertising continues to evolve and innovate. We know that people enjoy engaging with great editorial content, whether or not it’s marketing, but it comes back to trust – if you’re not upfront with your audience they’ll switch off and your hard work will be wasted”, said Christie Dennehy-Neil. “What the guidelines do is to demonstrate how, practically, digital advertising can remain responsible and in line with self-regulation while continuing to be creative and take advantage of the opportunities to connect with people in new and exciting ways.”