ASA rules on the meaning of "control" in relation to advertorial vlogs

ASA rules on the meaning of "control" in relation to advertorial vlogs

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has ruled that two vlogs posted on the YouTube channel Global Cycling Network (GCN) were advertorials, rather than merely sponsored content.

Under the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, a vlog will be an advertorial if a brand owner controls the content and has paid (not necessarily with money) the vlogger to make the video. Advertorials must be labelled upfront in a manner which enables viewers to understand that the video is an advertorial before engaging with it, for example with the word “ad” or “advertisement feature” in the title or thumbnail of the vlog.

An advertorial label placed in the description box below the vlog may not be immediately visible to viewers watching on a tablet or mobile browser, and would therefore not be adequate by itself. Likewise, relying solely on labels such as “sponsored” or “with thanks to” are considered insufficient as they could cause confusion for viewers who may understand these labels to mean that a brand has paid the vlogger but not controlled the content of the video.

The vlogs posted by GCN featured a bolt-on GPS bicycle computer marketed by Wahoo Fitness (Wahoo). In both videos, the presenters displayed and discussed the product’s uses and various features. When a “show more” button was clicked on the description boxes of both videos, text appeared which stated: “Thanks to Wahoo Fitness for the products used in this video. All views expressed in this video are the presenter’s own.” Below this, further text read: “Thanks to our sponsors” and listed several brands, including Wahoo Fitness.

GCN confirmed it had a commercial relationship with Wahoo, but stated that the vlogs were merely sponsored content and not advertorials, because Wahoo did not have any editorial control over the videos, and its involvement was limited to fact-checking technical details of the product. However, the contract stated that Wahoo would pay the vloggers for three branded videos with the “content and subject to be agreed by Wahoo and GCN”, which would include GCN producing an “unboxing” of the product and running a competition for it. Further, the contract held that the GCN vloggers would use Wahoo GPS bicycle computers in all relevant core indoor and outdoor channel content during a three-year term, and that GCN would reference Wahoo product features where appropriate as mutually agreed by both parties.

The ASA ruled that although Wahoo’s review of the technical details did not constitute editorial control alone, the other elements of contractual control did. As a result, the vlogs were considered to be advertorials that were not obviously identifiable as marketing communications. The videos breached the CAP Code and both GCN and Wahoo were reminded by the ASA of the requirement to ensure that advertorials are obviously identifiable, such as with an “ad” label in the thumbnail. This ruling demonstrates that even without a right of approval, the overall commercial relationship between the parties is a key indicator of whether the brand owner has sufficient control over the vlogger’s content for a video to become an advertorial.

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Kate Maguire

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