Video blogging has seen a surge in popularity over the past year, with some sites gaining fans in the millions. Zoella, who runs a beauty, fashion and lifestyle vlog, has 7.6 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, as well as three million followers on Twitter and four million on Instagram.
With such vast audiences tuning into this content, it is no wonder that brands want to tap into the market. But after the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in November last year that vloggers promoting Mondelez International’s Oreo biscuits failed to distinguish their post as an ad, a debate has emerged about whether clearer guidelines are needed.
The ASA published initial guidelines after the ruling stated that paid-for videos must be specified "upfront". However, its chief executive, Guy Parker, told the ISBA conference in London earlier this month that further clarity around the subject is needed.
He said: "Naturally, brands want to use the online spaces to advertise, but what if the line between owned and earned gets blurred?"
Parker pointed out that almost all of the vloggers whom the watchdog had spoken to supported the Oreo ruling. He said vloggers are asking for help "understanding the guidelines between advertising and editorial".
Many in the industry back the ASA’s approach in order to protect not only the audience but also the vloggers, some of whom are in their early twenties and may not understand what they are and what they are not allowed to do.
Siobhan Freegard is the founder of Channel Mum, a YouTube platform on which vloggers produce content for mothers. While Freegard accepts that transparency is needed, she believes that her audience doesn’t mind being marketed to. "They want to find out about different products for their family and are happy to do so via something that has been paid for by a brand," she says.
"If a vlogger has been asked to make a piece of content that promotes a product, campaign or brand, then that is effectively an ad – albeit a useful and interesting one, delivered by an influencer in a peer-to-peer environment – and no-one should be afraid to make that clear to viewers."