The ads were shown back to back on the evening on 14 November 2016 as part of The IT Factor, a strand of advertising programmes promoting Italian products available in London. They were created by London-based The Italian Project for trade consortium Etna World Trade.
They were each 30 minutes long and had many common features of a TV programme: opening and closing credits, sponsorship credits, and ad breaks containing more typical, unrelated ads.
London Live, in common with other local channels, is exempt from ad length restrictions. But it must be clear to viewers when they are watching an ad – a condition that the one complainant to the Advertising Standards Authority said had not been met.
The London Evening Standard's sister broadcaster said it had put time and thought into approving a suitable format for long-form ads to ensure that viewers were not confused.
The text "advertisement feature" appeared at the bottom of the screen for about five seconds every 80 seconds, and the electronic programme guide listing for the programme included the term "ad feature" at the end of its description.
But the ASA said the 30-minute running length, and the use of features including an ad break, would cause many viewers to assume they were watching editorial programming.
The watchdog added that the on-screen text was in a faint white, and would be easy for some viewers to miss – while the gaps between when this text appeared could lead some to think that "advertising feature" referred to a form of product placement, or a short ad within editorial programming.
The ASA also said the use of "ad feature" in the programme’s EPG listing was insufficient, because many viewers would only see the title, and not the description – while others would not see it at all.
It ruled that the ads breached the BCAP Code rule on recognition of advertising, and ordered that it not be used again in its current form.