Committee of Advertising Practice considers three key types of online content that fall within the scope of the CAP Code and the ASA’s jurisdiction

CAP explains that it would be “next to impossible to detail all of the types of online marketing that the CAP Code covers” so its remit guidance is always indicative rather than exhaustive.

Three key types of online content that fall within its remit are:

  1. “Paid-for” ad space online

CAP explains that the scope of the Code outlines categories of content to which the Code applies (and does not apply). One of the categories that falls within the ASA’s remit is ‘online advertisements in paid-for space’. In practice, “paid-for space” means any type of online space that is normally reserved and sold for the placement of ads.

Banner ads, pop-ups, pre-roll videos, and sponsored search results are all common examples of this type of advertising, as are the “promoted” posts on social media platforms. Even if this ad space has been “donated” to an advertiser for free, it still counts as an ad in “paid-for space” if it is otherwise normally sold as ad space.

  1. “Advertorial”

When a brand gives an influencer a payment, free item, or other “perk”, resulting posts are likely to become subject to consumer protection law enforced by the CMA. When a brand also has control over the content, the ASA can also apply the CAP Code to such posts.

Therefore, CAP says, for the ASA to take action on an “advertorial”, also known as an “advertisement feature”, an online post has to fulfil both of the following conditions:

  1. the content is controlled by the marketer/brand; and
  2. it is published “in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement”.

The term “advertorial” was originally applied to press ads that were written in collaboration with the publication where they appeared, and designed to fit in with its tone and surrounding content, but it also applies to equivalent ads online. If a blogger, vlogger, creator, influencer or other “publisher” has received payment or any other kind of commercial benefit, such as a free item from a brand, and the brand has any kind of editorial control over the content the post, it is likely to fit this definition.

CAP explains that because these ads do not appear in conventional ad spaces, and look very similar to posts that are not marketing communications, it is particularly important for these ads to be presented in a way that makes clear that they are advertising. The ASA’s research on labelling influencer marketing found that people typically struggle to identify when social media posts by influencers are ads.

  1. Directly connected

The third key category relevant to online advertising is:

“h. Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.”

CAP explains that in practice this means that if you have a direct commercial interest in the supply or sale of something (i.e. goods, services, opportunities and gifts), and you publish online content that is “directly connected” to the sale of that product on your own website or social media feeds, it counts as advertising. For example, if a vlogger has published a book that is currently for sale, and they refer to that book in a vlog, the section that refers to the book is likely to count as an ad. Likewise, if a brand refers to one of their own products/services on their own website, or in a social media post or reply to a comment, it is likely to count as an ad.

This definition also applies to affiliate ads, i.e. online posts containing an affiliate URL or discount code for a particular brand or product. Because the affiliate is paid in direct proportion to the number of click-throughs or sales that are generated by their post, all references to the brand’s products are “directly connected” to this transaction. They would therefore need to comply with the Code, and would likely need to be clearly labelled as advertising. To read CAP’s advice note in full, click here.