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UK Ad Watchdog Says Oreo & YouTube Stars Violated Disclosure Standards
Oreo got millions of views by paying video bloggers to post about the "Lick Race" challenge; standards group says the videos should have been clearly identified as marketing.
The practice of paying online influencers to promote products got a warning today when an advertising watchdog agency in the United Kingdom called out YouTube stars for not fully disclosing that they were paid to make videos for Oreo cookies.
The campaign in question was Oreo’s “Lick Race” challenge, which got millions of YouTube views last summer largely thanks to Oreo’s parent company Mondelez paying a handful of YouTube celebs, including Phil Lester and Dan Howell (2.1 million subscribers on their AmazingPhil channel) to
Today, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority announced that Mondelez and the video bloggers had violated the code that requires advertisements to be clearly identified as marketing. The ASA said that the “ads must not appear again in their current form” and that future such ads need to be more clearly marked. From the watchdog’s release about the ruling:
Why is it important to make clear an ad is an ad? It’s important that we understand when we’re being marketed to so that we can make informed decisions about what we’re being told. Plus if it’s appearing in a format that we’d normally expect to be non-promotional, we should be told up front about whether it’s an ad so that we can decide whether we want to continue viewing. In simple terms, it’s not fair to falsely promote a product.
Our ruling against Mondelez UK Ltd sets out why the advertiser got it wrong. It involved five YouTube videos, presented by vloggers, who encouraged viewers to participate in a ‘Lick Race’ challenge in which people compete to lick cream off an Oreo cookie as quickly as possible. The problem was the videos didn’t clearly indicate that there was a commercial relationship between the advertiser and the vloggers.
In this case because the ads were on online video channels that were usually non-promotional, the commercial intent should have been made clear before viewers clicked on the content.
As outlined last year in our ‘Blurring advertising and blogs’ piece, it’s perfectly legitimate for vloggers (or bloggers, tweeters etc) to enter into a commercial relationship and be paid to promote a product, service or brand. We’re not here to regulate that relationship or to stop vloggers earning money. But when that commercial relationship is in place then the onus is on the advertiser, and by extension the vlogger, to be upfront about it and clearly disclose the fact that they’re advertising.
Mondelez denied that it intended to deceive viewers, noting that it asked all the vloggers to make in-video statements that they had worked with Oreo to produce the spots. The description under each video also included language that the video had been created with Oreo. Such language wasn’t enough for the ASA, however. It stated that consumers should know that an ad is an ad before engaging with it.
“That means that flagging the relationship at some point during the video is not sufficient,” Andrew Terry, a media expert with the London law firm Eversheds, told the Financial Times, “which may well make this kind of promotion much less attractive for brand owners.”
At some point, the vloggers added more explicit messaging — now the videos include a “This is a paid for advertisement” line in the description and that message also appears as an annotation while the video is playing. It’s not clear whether that will satisfy the ASA.
It’s also unclear how the ruling will play out in the U.S. market. The Federal Trade Commission requires “clear and conspicuous” disclosures in such ads, but it hasn’t taken any recent action against this type of activity, which is also thought to be prevalent on Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and other youth-focused networks.
The FTC policy about disclosure in digital advertising can be downloaded here.