Disclaimer: This post is related to a news story that has been pushed into the media by the Advertising Standards Authority and all views of the practice are their own. We have not been paid, commissioned, requested to or blackmailed into the placement of this piece.
No money, items, monkeys or ice cream has been received in the making of the article and by no means are we suggesting that the ASA have requested this coverage.
Take note of the beginning of the title of this post and you would think that we have gone mad but this is what the future looks like for paid advertising placements commissioned by companies looking to increase their exposure to the mass market.
News this morning reveals that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has joined the fight against paid link advertisements following a slowly increasing trend of complaints being made about misleading placements that seem to offer a false representation surrounding opinions to do with products and services.
In a release through their own website ASA.org.uk, the Advertising Standards Authority have issued a warning to bloggers and website owners to highlight the need to clearly indicate any content that they have been paid or commissioned to create in order to prevent followers believing that the reviews, comments or blurb is that of an honest consumer.
Within the post on their site, the ASA reveal that there has been an increase in the number of site owners that have requested that they review or mention a product or service in a positive manner within their site, however they were asking that the blogger did not declare that they were "offered money to advertise".
The issue that the ASA have with such placements is that their advertising rules specify that advertisements of any nature need to be specified as such to allow online users to be able to differentiate between real consumer coverage and that which has been paid or commissioned by the company themselves.
According to the ASA coverage, their policy towards false representation of being a legitimate consumer when in fact you have been paid to offer a positive review or opinion of any product or service is misleading and can be a tipping point for real customers to make the purchase before finding out for themselves that their new item or service is not what it appeared.
There are stern words of warning for any brands or companies that are currently operating in this manner too, saying that although the placement is placed on a third party website, "ultimately the buck would stop with the advertiser", adding "If a paid for entry on a blog wasn't disclosed we would investigate the advertiser and hold them accountable."
Although the stance of the ASA seems to be that they will name both parties during their investigations, they have moved to stress that they are in no way looking to prevent bloggers from being able to make money from placements like these, instead they indicated that as long as you signal that you have been paid for the placement in a clear manner, there is no issue.
This means that any companies that are looking to advertise will have to get used to the sight of "sponsored post", "commissioned post", "advertorial" and any other variants that symbolise that they have paid for the exposure, resulting in a higher risk of breaching Google guidelines should the links continue to be set to the ‘do follow' attribute.
The ASA highlighted that they are serious with their bid to clean up the issue, pointing out that they would be taking names and adding them to the list of non-compliant websites that they had ruled were breaking the rules, naming and shaming them in an easy to find listing that contains some big names from first glance.
The need to highlight ‘paid for placement' content has been a long standing requirement, however the ASA have now decided to increase the awareness of these rules in order to protect consumers from misleading information, pointing out that "Bloggers can hold great sway and influence amongst their followers."
In true Google fashion we expect this to become even more of an issue for the search engine giants that have increased their hold over paid advertising placements over recent years, rolling out Google Penguin to automatically detect excessive link placements and maintaining their manual review stance that act on tips and user highlight to push sites into being looked into by a Google employee that has the power to sanction the site.
The ASA are not about to do advertisers any favours either, stating that as part of their sanction towards sites that are found to have paid placements that do not declare the fact that they have been willing to comply with the required disclosure agreement by adding them to an open list of sites found to be in breach of the requirements.
With the threat of looking to have paid and unlabelled content being pushed to search engines in a bid to have it removed from their index, there could well be another whistle blowing aspect that SEO companies and their clients need to think about.
Although the regulations have been publicised again today, they have been in action for a number of years without website owners following the rules but whether that is done to the fact that they were unaware that they existed is still to be seen and the reaction following this exposure will show how much notice bloggers take regarding the recommendation to show that the feature of the product or service is as a response to payment.
Looking further into regulations and guidelines surrounding the placement of paid content (inc links) show that there are vast numbers of people that ignore what is required, with a focus on this particular section taken from cap.org.uk:
As you can see from the rules that address marketing communications, such aspects as the contact emails having to be marked up as being related to being a marketing approach clearly within the subject line (so that it can be seen to be marketing without the need to open the email) and should clearly indicate your intentions from the contact within the body.
The reminder seems to be focused towards bloggers in the most part but the knock on effect could well mean that any of you guys out there that are looking to get your hands on links to improve your search engine visibility, so how will this alter the way that you work?