Vloggers Veware – The ASA is Watching You

Back in March, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was warning bloggers about advertising products and services. In short, if a blogger was being paid by a company to advertise its products it had to be clear about it, and not dress it up as an independent endorsement.

In 2012 a few celebrities including Rio Ferdinand and Ian Botham were investigated following a series of ostensibly off-the-cuff endorsements of Snickers, which had been paid for by Mars.

The ASA is clearly taking the matter seriously and has today reminded vloggers (who typically use YouTube and similar channels to produce video blogs on their chosen subjects) that they are not exempt. The authority has issued a statement telling them  that they must make it clear when they are being paid to advertise a product rather than simply reporting on its greatness. It says:

“A key principle of the Advertising Code is that ads should be obviously identifiable as ads. In most cases it’s clear […] Sometimes, however, it’s not always obvious, in particular on digital media platforms, which is why our ruling involving a series of YouTube videos by vloggers serves as a timely reminder of the importance of advertisers being up front and clear with an audience when they’re advertising to them.”

Digested read: be honest vloggers.

Over at Google

Google has its own rules on payments being made for mentions, links or endorsements. On its Quality Guidelines page it makes clear what is and isn’t acceptable. While it doesn’t have the legal clout of the ASA, Google’s punishments can be detrimental to your business, so you’re best off being transparent about your endorsements.

But wait … Doesn’t this Google ad encourage sending satchels to bloggers?

Maybe satchels are exempted. They are über cool, after all.

You can help matters by including nofollow links, as Matt Cutts explains here. But the law of Google doesn’t supersede the law of the land, so make sure you do your research and make a clear distinction between ads and personal recommendations.

Digested read: be honest internetters.

Anyway, back to my aromatic Aldi French Blend coffee. It really perks up my day.

Our Thoughts

“As a marketing professional, YouTubers seriously impress me. They build up their channels by building relationships, cross promoting with others, creating interesting content and engaging with their subscribers. They understand their viewers (and what they want) and they know what makes people want to share their stuff. How many companies can say the same?

Brands have been tapping into their audiences for years, initially plying them with trinkets, hugs and kind words. Later with cash and support.

When Emma Blackery talks about coke and milk, people go out and buy coke and milk. Their perception of Coke is affected by Emma’s image even sub-consciously. Is she cool? Is she someone they want to be like? There’s whole disciplines of advertising that are built on the concept that people do want to be like her … so maybe.

It must really annoy them that just as they’re beginning to be recognised for the value they bring, they’re having their wings clipped.

My first question is… is this something that can really be regulated? When Samsung gets celebrities to take selfies, what can the UK-based ASA do except wag their fingers with displeasure? What about US-based YouTubers? What about celebrity endorsements? We know it’s an advert but perhaps we need George Freaking Clooney to be wearing a T-shirt saying “Nespresso probably paid me $3 million to drink this. Not bad for a day’s work, eh?” next time he does a commercial. In fact, what about sponsorship? I look forward to Everton’s kit getting an asterisk next to the Chang Beer logo.

I appreciate that two wrongs don’t make a right but two wrongs do make a crappy, uneven situation and I’m curious to see whether this is something that will be enforced. I look forward to the first prosecution.

My preferred path for brands is for them to build up their own YouTube following by raising their standards to what people like Emma and Luke are producing but truthfully, I don’t think most could. Do they have the knowledge? Do they want to take risks? In my experience, brands are too keen to be self-promotional and talk at people instead of provide value, entertainment and all that fun stuff.

Random example? Aunt Bessie’s YouTube channel. Finally a place where people can find all those Aunt Bessie’s adverts they might have missed. I know I’m being a bit unfair here – maybe YouTube isn’t a valuable marketing channel for them – but they need to think about brand building and long term strategies. What’s the image (or images) they want to achieve and how can they produce content for their intended audience that helps them achieve this? (Clue: it’s not adverts.)

Sometimes this will mean hiring a bunch of YouTubers to produce videos for their company channel wearing chefs’ hats and pretending to spontaneously feed their American friends Jaffa Cakes, Yorkshire puddings and haggis whilst they cackle like loons. But this would mean trusting these people on both sides of the camera … and I don’t think most brands will be ready to do that for a few years.”

James Flacks, Online Marketing Consultant