Watchdog slaps major agencies for disguising ads as articles

05/04/2016

Top agencies StarCom and TAN Media have been reprimanded by a consumer watchdog for failing to identify sponsored articles as ads.

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The warning, from Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) marks a clampdown on sponsored ads, otherwise known as 'native content'.

The CMA found that Starcom and TAN had "arranged for endorsements in online articles and blogs on behalf of MYJAR, a short-term loan provider, without making it clear that they were advertising", according to a press release from the watchdog. The amount or nature of these hidden ads was not disclosed.

The two agencies and MYJAR itself have all now promised to "ensure all advertising and other marketing in articles and blogs is clearly labelled or identified so that it is distinguishable from the opinion of a journalist or blogger".

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.

In a bid to make an example out of this particular case, the CMA has written to 13 marketing companies, 20 businesses that use the services of marketing companies and 33 publishers of online articles and blogs, to warn them that helping to arrange or publish advertising or other marketing that is not clearly distinguishable from the opinion of a journalist or blogger may result in them breaking the law.

The CMA has published open letters on its website so that all businesses, marketing companies and publishers are able to look at the steps they need to take to comply with consumer protection law.

The move follows a call for information around the issue published by the watchdog in February 2015, and two investigations that concluded into marketing businesses in February and in March respectively.

Nisha Arora, CMA senior director, consumer, said: "Failing to identify advertising and other marketing, so that it appears to be the opinion of a journalist or blogger, is unlawful and unacceptable.

"The businesses being promoted, the marketing companies arranging promotions and publishers of online articles all need to play their role and maintain trust online by ensuring that advertising and other marketing is clearly distinguishable from editorial content and that this is not hidden from the consumer.

"The CMA will continue to enforce the law so that consumers can have confidence in the reviews or opinions they read online.

Recently, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also submitted guidelines for bloggers vloggers, bloggers and social media stars getting paid to feature products.

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