Native advertising – what is it and what are the risks to your business?
A recent decision by the UK advertising regulator The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), calls into question whether native advertising can be done effectively without breaking the rules.
What is native advertising?
Native advertising is “native” to the environment in which it is placed. It seeks to engage the consumer by making the advert consistent with the aesthetic and functional context of the editorial content alongside which it is presented. Most native advertising is in the form of “articles” that look very similar to the rest of the content of the webpage they appear on. It works in a similar way to how “advertorials” work in non-digital media, but can be more specifically targeted to the interests of the consumer based on an understanding of their likes and interests gained from monitoring their web browsing activity.
What’s the problem with native advertising?
The very point of “native” advertising is to blur the boundary between editorial and advertising. However, the fact that it can be difficult to distinguish the advert from the article means that there could be potential breaches of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (known as CAP Code), which require marketing communications to be obviously identifiable as such, and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which provide that it is an unfair commercial practice to “[Use] editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer (advertorial).”
What does the ASA say?
The ASA recently upheld a (single) complaint against Outbrain in respect of its “native” advertising campaign, concluding that it had failed to ensure that advertising was clearly identifiable as such by consumers.
Outbrain Inc works with website owners to place paid-for links at the foot of web pages. This particular complaint related to an advert at the bottom of a page on the website of the Independent newspaper.
Outbrain’s image and text advert appeared alongside other adverts under the heading “You may also like these” and a link below the ad took consumers to a third party’s website. When the user clicked through to the advert, the words “Recommended by” also appeared. In addition, there was a linked Outbrain logo next to the heading on the Independent’s website, which took users to a pop up headed “What are these links?” and told the user that the links were to third party content. Outbrain maintained that their approach was in line with industry practice and believed that the average internet user would be aware that links similar to the one they provided were clickable and were often used to provide additional information.
Outbrain also argued that they were not advertising in the traditional sense, but were recommending material based on consumers’ interests.
The ASA rejected Outbrain’s arguments.
What are the implications for Native Advertising?
The Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) has published further guidance on the Outbrain ruling on its website (https://www.cap.org.uk/Advice-Training-on-the-rules/Advice-Online-Database/Contextually-targeted-branded-content.aspx#.U7auomhwaUk). One particular point to note in this guidance is CAP’s warning that not only could the advertising service provider (in this case Outbrain) be held responsible, but in other scenarios the publisher, or the company whose ad is served, could be considered the advertisers (and therefore responsible for complying with the rules).
Whilst, according to CAP, a context driven approach might not in itself be problematic, all parties involved in advertising need to make sure that all advertising is clearly, and obviously identifiable as such and that adverts are not “camouflaged”, which clearly conflicts with how marketers would like their native advertising to work.