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Advertorials must be clearly identified

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has reminded publishers that sponsored columns, published in exchange for payment and with content provided by marketers rather than publishers, must be clearly labelled as advertising.01 Sep 2004

The reminder came in an adjudication that was published today. It relates to a feature in Scottish newspaper The Herald, entitled "Professional Brief". The piece had been submitted by Glasgow-based French Duncan Chartered Accountants and, according to a complaint made to the advertising watchdog, it did not clearly show that it was an advert. This is in breach of advertising rules.

These rules are contained in the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, which is administered by the ASA. The CAP Code governs the content of UK non-broadcast marketing communications. Although lacking the force of legislation, it should be followed by all businesses and there are penalties available for non-compliance.

The Code states that:

"Advertisement features, announcements or promotions, sometimes referred to as 'advertorials', that are disseminated in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement should comply with the Code if their content is controlled by the marketers rather than the publishers."

It adds:

"Marketers and publishers should make clear that advertisement features are advertisements, for example by heading them 'advertisement feature'."

The Herald's publishers, Newsquest, argued that the piece was a sponsored column which allowed expert editorial comment from various companies, and did not refer to their respective services. The feature, it argued, was not an advert.

Newsquest, which publishes more than 300 newspapers, added that it had editorial control over what was submitted and the bye-line used indicated that the opinions detailed in the column were those of the author. Any payment made for the column, it added, was nominal – to cover staff costs – and was not a guarantee of when and where the columns would be published.

The ASA did not agree. It noted that, while the publishers had some editorial control over content, the content in fact was provided by the advertisers. As a result:

"Because the sponsored columns were published in exchange for payment and their content was provided by the marketers rather than the publishers, the Authority considered that the sponsored columns were advertising features."

The publishers have been asked to make it clear that future "sponsored columns" are in fact adverts.

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