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IAB launches guidelines to provide greater transparency in online ‘advertorials’

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) has released a set of guidelines to help the marketing industry provide more transparency to consumers around digital advertorials.

The guidelines provide advertisers, publishers, agencies and advertising technology companies with clear and practical steps to make it easier for consumers to spot these types of digital ad formats designed to look and feel like editorial content.

Two of the key guidelines for content-based advertising are:

* Provide consumers with prominently visible visual cues enabling them to immediately understand they are engaging with marketing content (e.g. brand logos or names at the beginning of the content)

* It must be labelled using wording that demonstrates a commercial arrangement is in place (e.g. ‘paid promotion’ or ‘brought to you by’).

The guidelines are supported by ISBA – the voice of British advertisers – the Association for Online Publishers (AOP) and the Content Marketing Association (CMA). They meet the UK advertising industry’s CAP code, which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), to help businesses comply with existing UK advertising rules.

Content and native advertising spend – including paid for sponsorships, advertisement features and in-feed distribution – was worth £509 million in 2014, accounting for 22% of display ad spend.

“The guidelines draw heavily on established good practice in print media because people bring their experience and expectations of print to the digital environment,” said Christie Dennehy-Neil, Public Policy Manager at the IAB.

“People recognise online advertorial as the ‘modern’ version of what they’re used to seeing in print so they expect the same standards of distinctive labelling and identification online. The UK’s advertising rules are clear on this, and these guidelines provide practical ways for businesses to comply with them.”

The guidelines are based on a study specifically commissioned by the IAB to understand consumer knowledge, attitudes and tolerance to content and native advertising. Conducted by research agency 2CV, it revealed:

* People decide to engage with content-based ads based on (1) how relevant the ad is to them (2) whether they’ll derive ‘value’ from it, as with editorial content and (3) if it’s clear who it’s from and if they trust the author, brand or publisher

* People’s trust in a brand or publisher can diminish if the origin of the content is unclear

* The characteristics consumers considered ‘good’ in making commercial content clear, such as:

o The advertiser logo being prominent, ideally at the start of the piece of content

o Clear labelling, e.g. ‘sponsored by’. Consumers weren’t so concerned about the exact wording, but did expect to see a label

* The way consumers ‘filter’ content as being paid for isn’t necessarily linear but visual cues help them do this immediately.

David Ellison, Marketing Services Manager at ISBA, said: “As digital content marketing continues to develop, it is crucial that it adheres to tried and tested UK advertising self-regulation. ISBA has worked closely with the IAB to produce these guidelines – which build on existing good practice – to help advertisers deliver the transparency that consumers demand.”

Tim Cain, the AOP’s Managing Director, said: “The continued success of digital advertising relies on positive consumer relationships built on trust. These guidelines demonstrate that advertisers and publishers take seriously their responsibility to provide transparency to their audiences.”

These guidelines for content-based advertising follow a set published earlier this year for native advertising.