As the market for traditional digital advertising continues to decline, many media companies have turned to "native advertising" or sponsored content—and not just digital-native outlets like BuzzFeed but traditional players such as the New York Times. But those desires are running into some headwinds from regulators.
The British advertising regulator, for example, has reprimanded BuzzFeed UK for running a "listicle" sponsored by Dylon—a maker of color dye for clothing, and a subsidiary of German's Henkel AG—that the agency said was not properly identified as advertising.
The post was entitled "14 Laundry Fails We’ve All Experienced," and consisted of posts and photos taken from various social-media platforms that showed mistakes involving laundry. Where the byline of a reporter would normally appear, it said "Dylon, brand publisher."
According to the regulator, the article (which has since been removed) also included a live feed from Dylon's Facebook page, as well as a sentence at the end that said "It’s at times like these we are thankful that Dylon Colour Catcher is there to save us."
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The Advertising Standards Authority said that where the article appeared on BuzzFeed's home page and other pages, it was sufficient that it was identified as "promoted content" and Dylon was credited as the publisher. But on the actual article page itself, the agency said it wasn't clear enough that it was promoted or sponsored content.
"[The labelling] was not sufficient to make clear that the main content of the web page was an advertorial," the ASA ruling says. "We further noted that the web page was very long and visitors to it would therefore not see the reference to Dylon Colour Catcher at the bottom of the page until they had already engaged with the content."
The agency also ruled that the term "brand publisher" was not sufficient to convey the commercial nature of the content to consumers, and said the ad "must not appear again in its current form."
In addition to BuzzFeed, the British regulator also recently reprimanded The Telegraph for what it said was a misleading advertorial for tires, and last year it ordered Instagram to remove a post from Kim Kardashian that promoted a morning-sickness medicine.
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A BuzzFeed UK spokesman told the Guardian that the company would be reviewing its practices in light of the decision. The publisher also said in a comment to the regulator that since the British agency had not made very many decisions related to native advertising, the company was forced to rely on the standards of its U.S.-based parent.
The U.S. regulator, meanwhile, has also been cracking down on sponsored content. The Federal Trade Commission, which handles advertising standards, recently released new rules for how such ads are identified.
Among other things, the new standards say that simply using terms such as "promoted by" isn't enough to identify native advertising. When it comes to labelling, the FTC said, advertisers shouldn’t use terms such as "promoted" because "they are at best ambiguous and potentially could mislead consumers that advertising content is endorsed by a publisher."