As we have previously reported here, native advertising is intended to form a part of users’ online experiences, aiming to engage and compel with minimal disruption. Often the content of native advertising is high quality, reaching out to an audience’s wants and needs, sometimes going viral. Clearly marketers are working within divergent boundaries; creating appealing and intelligent content whilst simultaneously being careful not to camouflage the content so well that consumers are misled about its origin and purpose.

Last week the ASA (the Advertising Standards Authority) upheld complaints about a banner ad on newspaper The Independent’s website, ran by content discovery company Outbrain. Outbrain generates paid for links to recommended third party content, or a publisher’s other content, based on user patterns. The recommendations can sit as a panel ad at the end of an article on a publisher’s page. The complaints were over whether or not the advertising, which showed images and text under the title "You may also like these", was identifiable as marketing.

Outbrain confirmed that they did not own the websites where the banners were placed and the website owners had control over the ‘look and feel’ of content. They said that the industry standard of including wording such as "you may also like these" or "recommended by" appearing next to their logo would identify the ads to most Internet users as promoted content.

The ASA disagreed with this approach and said that some consumers would not necessarily realise that the different recommendations formed part of the same ‘panel’ of ads, they might not notice the ‘recommended by’ text and they might not realise that the logo linked to further information. The ASA therefore unsurprisingly held that the banners in their current form were not sufficiently obvious to ensure that consumers were aware they were viewing marketing communications, and ruled that the ads in their current form were misleading.

Given the above, it’s easy to see how it’s tricky to get native advertising right. The industry press frequently reports of advertisers being caught out in our new digital era by not making it clear to consumers where content is paid for. The Committee of Advertising (CAP) even published Guidance in conjunction with the ASA on sponsored communications to clarify some of the grey area, back in 2012. The ASA’s message is again that all promotional activity should clearly be identified as such.