UK clamps down on online ads disguised as articles

UK clamps down on online ads disguised as articles

You can’t publish an ad without calling it an ad.

Jamie Rigg , @jmerigg

Even the most robust ad-blocking software can’t strip the internet of promotional material entirely. UK watchdog The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) usually spends its time putting the kibosh on misleading ads, but recently it’s also started turning its attention to more underhand marketing practices. Just last month, the regulator begun cracking down on fake online reviews, and today it announced it’s now taking media companies to task over promotional articles and blogs — aka sponsored content — that doesn’t clearly tell the reader they’re essentially looking at an advertisement.

Specifically, the CMA has named and shamed marketing firms Starcom Mediavest and TAN Media, which were found to be distributing unlabeled advertorials promoting payday loans provider MYJAR. The companies are said to have “engaged constructively” with the CMA’s investigation, and will make sure all sponsored content is labeled as such, not presented as opinion. Further to making an example out of this particular case, the CMA has written to other marketing companies, their clients and online publishers, and plans to outline the rules in open letters to make everyone aware that ignoring consumer protection law in this way won’t be tolerated.

The UK in general is growing increasingly more irritated by advertising that tries its damnedest to avoid being recognized for what it is. And the CMA isn’t the only local regulator strong-arming marketers into playing ball. The UK Financial Conduct Authority, for example, voiced concerns about sponsored social network posts that aren’t immediately identifiable as ads several years ago. More recently, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority also felt it necessary to spell out exactly what an ad is (and how it should be labeled) to vloggers, bloggers and social media stars getting paid to feature products.

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