01 December 2014

An ad in vlog's clothing

When is a blog not a blog? A vlog not a vlog? Or a simple tweet not a tweet? The answer is when it is actually an advert.

The spotlight has fallen on five YouTube videos, presented by vloggers who called on their viewers to join the 'Lick Challenge' and lick cream off an Oreo cookie. So far, so harmless.

Except that the vloggers did not make clear their commercial relationship with advertiser Mondelez UK Ltd.

This week, the Advertising Standards Authority, the regulator for advertising across all media, ruled against Mondelez. A key principle of the Advertising Code is that we should know what we are watching, reading, hearing. They say: if it's an ad, it should obviously say so, so we can make informed decisions about what we are being told. In a space we would normally expect to be non-promotional this is especially important.

Brands routinely embrace content marketing as the direct way to their customers' hearts, minds and wallets: across YouTube and many other channels. The question is, how much do we care? If a video, picture or piece of copy entertains or informs us - do we ask where it came from? The answer is: probably less and less.

Does that mean it's ok to mislead your audience? No, because what marks out some of the most successful content marketers is not that they do it without us knowing what they are up to, but that the content is good enough to stand up in its own right, and it fits the brand.

And for the bloggers and vloggers who invest a lot of energy in building credibility with their communities, it's just not worth risking that personal reputation when it is possible to work with a brand to create great material, be upfront about it, and so keep credibility intact.

As the ASA points out 'ultimately it pays to be honest' if not only to stay on the right side of the law, but also because most times, it makes for a better end result.