HomeInsightsAdvertising Standards Authority calls for evidence on people’s understanding of labels indicating online content as advertising

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The ASA is calling for evidence on people’s understanding of labels and other identifiers that are intended to indicate that online content is advertising. Ads that are not obviously identifiable as such have the potential to mislead people and damage trust in advertising, the ASA says.

The ASA notes that, in recent years, native and influencer advertising has become commonplace. As the UK’s advertising regulator it expects it to be obvious to people when they are being advertised to. Broadly speaking, the ASA takes native and influencer advertising to mean payment (or payment in kind), and messages controlled, by the brand.

The ASA says that it is important for people to know when they are being advertised to so that they can understand when content is intended to promote a product or brand and is not a publication’s normal editorial content or an influencer’s genuine independent post. Sometimes the content and/or context of an ad makes that clear, but where they do not, it is important for advertisers to label content clearly and upfront, the ASA says.

There are a variety of ways of labelling ads and the ASA wants to find out more about what types of labels allow people to understand that content is advertising. This, it says, will help ensure that the ASA advises and regulates the industry in a way that is in tune both with the realities of how evolving digital platforms work and, most importantly, with people’s expectations and experience.

In order to do that, this year, the ASA will be examining evidence about the labelling and recognition of online ads and, later, commissioning its own research into public understanding.

The ASA is therefore inviting stakeholders to submit evidence on how people understand those labels and other identifiers that are intended to indicate that online content is advertising. It is specifically seeking high quality research and evidence on this topic.

The ASA would most welcome evidence on:

  • what level and type of commercial influence over editorial content people expect to be informed about, through an ad label or other identifier;
  • how people interpret specific labels and the extent to which wording, placement, visibility and style might impact on people’s ability to identify an ad. This might be relevant in the following contexts, amongst others:
    • paid-for ads and posts on social media platforms;
    • native content on online news websites;
    • content discovery network ads appearing on news websites, for example, and that drive traffic to other content, including advertising;
    • recommendation engines in online retail environments; and
    • influencer marketing on social media platforms, blogs and vlogs.
  • the extent to which people may differ in their ability to identify ads, including whether some groups are more or less likely able to distinguish advertising from non-advertising content and the reasons for that. CAP maintains guidance on how online advertising to younger children should be labelled; and
  • current practices for the labelling of online ads, including national and international examples.

Submissions should be made by Friday 13 April. For further information, click here.