ASA probes whether consumers can recognise online ads as ads

The Advertising Standards Authority has started a project that examines if online browsers are able to recognise online ads as ads, including by how they are labelled.

ASA probes whether consumers can recognise online ads as ads

The ASA has issued a call for evidence to learn more about the types of labelling that helps people understand when the online content they see, hear and interact with is advertising.

This project is in response to the trend of brands working with social media influencers and publishers, according to the watchdog.

"The effect of which has sometimes been a blurring of the lines between advertising and editorial content. That, in turn, has led to confusion and frustration amongst consumers, as well as uncertainty amongst influencers and online publications, about when and how content should be labelled as advertising," the ASA said in a statement. 

The call for evidence will form one part of the ASA’s ongoing work in this area and is the starting point for helping it explore whether it is getting it right on ad labelling online.

It will also help the ASA ensure it advises and regulates the ad industry in a way that is in tune both with how evolving digital platforms work and, most importantly, with people’s expectations and experience.

Specifically, the ASA would most welcome evidence on:

  • What level and type of commercial influence over editorial content people expect to be informed about, through an ad label or other methods. 
  • How people interpret specific labels used to indicate content as advertising, for example #ad, and the extent to which wording, placement, visibility and style might impact on people’s ability to identify an ad
  • The extent to which people may differ in their ability to identify ads: including whether some groups are more or less likely able to distinguish advertising from non-advertising content and the reasons for that
  • Current practices for the labelling of online ads, including national and international examples

"Social influencer and native advertising might be relatively new but the advertising rules haven’t changed – people shouldn’t have to play the detective to work out if they’re being advertised to," ASA chief executive, Guy Parker added. "That means the status of a tweet, blog, vlog, Instagram post or story should be clear. Our call for evidence will play an important part in helping us understand how consumers recognise and respond to online labelling of ads and how we apply the rules in this area."