Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: UK Regulator Dings Clever Ads As Being Too Good

from the advertising-as-content-that-is-too-good dept

For many, many, many years we’ve been talking about the idea of advertising as content and content as advertising on Techdirt. The basic idea is that in today’s world, where there are so many things competing for our attention, rather than trying to force annoying ads on people, advertisers should look to turn their advertising into good content that people actually want to see. And the related concept of “content is advertising” is that any good content advertises something else in some way or another (whether it wants to or not). But the key point is that rather than relying on the idea of a captive audience, it makes sense to focus on trying to create advertising that people want to see.

Anyway, late last year, we posted what we thought was a great example of all of this, whereby Google teamed up with the absolutely hilarious UK TV show Taskmaster to create a series of ads that were actually “tasks” on the show. I won’t go through all the details again, but this hit all the key points I was talking about in the earlier posts on advertising and content, where the focus was first on actually making good content, that also acted as advertising. The main two videos were 3 and a half minute long segments that were similar to the TV show, and then there were a couple of shorter 30 second spots that just showed some clips from the longer segments. The longer segments apparently took over some entire commercial breaks in the UK.

And… now I find out that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned at least the shorter ads from running on TV again, saying they ran afoul of UK advertising rules. Apparently two people complained to the ASA that the content was so good they weren’t sure if they were actually advertisements when they ran on TV, even though it appears they made every effort to make it abundantly clear that the segments were sponsored:

Channel 4 highlighted the difference in format from the main show: the campaign videos did not have the studio segments where decisions around the winners would be made and, unlike the main program, displayed Google’s logo and the word “#ad” during all segments. Google pointed out that no specific rules had been set about the length of time “#ad” should feature on the screen while Channel 4 also claimed that it believed that there had been “an increase in the media literacy of audiences” who would be able to distinguish the difference between advertising and editorial content.

Clearcast, which works with advertisers to ensure that their campaigns will meet regulatory standards, made the same points around the attempted differentiation from the main program and its use of the Google logo and “#ad.” The use of the Google logo and YouTube link were not sufficient to stand them apart either. As a result, neither will be allowed to be used again and if the partnership is repeated then their format must be altered to be clearer as adverts.

Apparently, the ASA said that the longer segments were more clearly seen as ads, but some 30 second clips were not as clear. And… even that seems backwards to me. At this point, when you see anything that is only 30 seconds long and professionally produced (i.e., not on TikTok), aren’t you going to assume it’s a promotional video of some kind?

The final ruling from the ASA basically said the longer ads were okay because they had “#ad” showing up the whole time, but the shorter segments, even though they looked more like traditional ads were somehow not?

We noted that ads (b) and (c) were edited in the style of a trailer for Taskmaster rather than more closely resembling the typical programme content, and that the Google logo was featured at both the start and end of the ads. However, we considered that ads (b) and (c) remained reminiscent of the programme Taskmaster and particular care should be taken to ensure viewers were not confused between the two.

But they were 30 second clips that were obviously promoting at least the show, and how clueless does the ASA think people are that having the Google logo show at the beginning and the end of a 30 second spot won’t clue people in to the snippet being an ad?

I understand the fear of undisclosed sponsored content being an issue (though product placement happens all the time and is almost never disclosed), but this seems so obviously to be an advertisement, that the only reading of this ruling by the ASA is that the content was too good, and therefore people would think it wasn’t an ad, because it was actually entertaining by itself. And we can’t have that.

Anyway, here are the two “legal” segments, as it seems that the 30 second banned segments are no longer available anywhere…

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Companies: channel 4, google, youtube

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Comments on “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: UK Regulator Dings Clever Ads As Being Too Good”

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Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Guess they can't read Katakana

Maybe it’s my linguistic backround, or the fact that I learned Japanese, but I could clearly tell that “パイナップル” was not Japanese Kanji (which are Chinese characters) and it was not Korean (which is represented by a whole other writing system altogether) but Japanese katakana and I could easily transliterate it as “painappuru” or “pineapple”.

Guess I’m not the target audience for taskmaster.

Naughty Autie says:

No wonder I missed this.

“But the key point is that rather than relying on the idea of a captive audience, it makes sense to focus on trying to create advertising that people want to see.”
“Anyway, late last year, we posted what we thought was a great example of all of this, whereby Google teamed up with the absolutely hilarious UK TV show Taskmaster to create a series of ads that were actually ‘tasks’ on the show.”

I don’t watch Taskmaster. Never have.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The point

I can guess that there is no through line between the subject, the quoted material, and the statement made by naughty allie. Furthermore, the comment breaks down to “I don’t watch taskmaster”, but why that matters to the subject of the article, which is about the UK regulator’s reaction to the ads. You would question the point of such a comment because, while nominally on topic, there sits a question of what value such a comment has. It doesn’t extend any commentary about the topic or taskmaster itself. It is structured as an antagonistic comment, one readers of techdirt’s comments will be familiar with. the “I don’t [consume content X], so why is this here”.

If someone makes an observation, those who didn’t grow up with youtube comments assume that observation has some meaning beyond “This exists”. “I don’t watch taskmaster” holds no meaning aside to indicate “I am ignorant of this topic and therefore have nothing to say.” The typical response to someone taking the time to state “I don’t watch Taskmaster” would therefore be to wonder what about that fact was important enough to take the time.

Naughty Allie then chose to quote the article, quoting sections that link to the content they missed, taking even more effort. Attempting to incorporate the quotes and subject you get “I missed the original articles because I don’t watch taskmaster” which doesn’t make sense. Perhaps “I ignored those articles because I don’t watch Taskmaster” might make sense, but that feedback doesn’t help Techdirt produce a better product, nor does it contribute to any discussion about the article, and simply leaves the question “And….?” because they took the effort to post that fact, and you want to understand why that fact was so important as take that effort.

An issue of modern internet communication is the willingness to state a fact and not connect why that fact is important. The result was people assuming motivation, to assume the point. And trolls abuse this to become schrodinger’s douchebag (HT: Innuendo Studios). The response from reasonable persons has been to request people state why a position matters when you read a negative motivation, rather than assume the negative motivation.

Its entirely reasonable to question why Naughty Allie left a comment that they ignored previous Techdirt articles on Taskmaster, What conversation did they want to have by making that statement. Particularly as that type of hallow comment is often used to simply dismiss the article as meaningless by trolls. NA’s clear misunderstanding in later comments about the differences between an ad segment and product placement doesn’t help that perception.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:2

A) It’s Naughty Autie, not ‘Naughty Allie’ (coming off as prejudiced, giving people female names).
B) RTFC. Seriously, what part of “I didn’t know about this thing with Google because I don’t watch that particular programme” do you not get?
C) You post a super long comment full of nothing substantial except attacks on me, and then you have the cheek to call me a disrupter aka ‘troll’? As has been said so often before: every accusation a confession.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Seriously, what part of “I didn’t know about this thing with Google because I don’t watch that particular programme” do you not get?

There’s nothing confusing about the statement, the question is why was it made? Why would anyone care that Naughty Autie has never watched Taskmaster? Why did this person think someone might be interested in that comment?

Or, as summed up in the original question: what is your point?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

I’m so sorry for expressing interest in a subject.

It came across as the exact opposite to me. Like “never heard of it, don’t care.” And I had the same question – what was the purpose of informing us that you had never watched Taskmaster? I think whatever you were going for did not come through clearly.

bully enabler.

If that’s bullying then your experience of the internet must be… exhausting.

Naughty Autie says:

Just read the linked article:

“This would see a takeover of an entire ad break each Thursday evening during the broadcast of an episode for the duration of the deal. Each would focus on a single challenge undertaken by celebrities Al Murray and Desiree Burch and would be hosted by creator Alex Horne.”
“Following two complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority has now partially banned the content from running again and decreed that any future content must be clearly distinguishable as adverts.”

Because anything run during an ad break must always be clearly distinguishable as not part of the programme being broadcast. Epic fail, ASA. Epic fail.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”… that are undisclosed advertisements. If one accepts that ads can be “nice things”, we can totally have them if “ad” is overlaid them, which by American standards is not a big deal. Maybe things are different in the UK, but in the USA, there seems to be no end to the shit TV networks are willing to overlay their shows with. Network logos are ubiquitous, static-image ads are common, and sometimes there are even animated ads covering the bottom 30-50% (plus whatever ads get shown beside the credits). Nevermind that TV shows have gone from 50.5 minutes of show per hour (e.g. Star Trek TOS) to maybe 42.

Whatever ability I once had to feel sympathy for advertisers was exhaused long ago. (Oddly, though, advertisers seem to be the only group successfully opposing overlays: whatever overlays are normally present, nothing ever shows up on top of an ad. TV writers/producers/etc. put up with it, viewers put up with it, but for advertisers it seems to be a step too far.)

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:

Which I believe I pointed out in my clearly sarky comment. Also of note is the fact that the shorter ads had them too, just not throughout the ad. The main problem I see in the ASA’s decision is that they banned these shorts as being a programme with product placement that was insufficiently distinguishable from an advert, when the case was really that a mere two people couldn’t distinguish an advert from a programme with product placement even with visual cues telling them that’s what they were.

Naughty Autie says:


If we’re so stupid, then how come we understand enough American English that Stephen King’s books aren’t translated here, yet the popular series written by She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and published by Scholastic is filled with words such as ‘garbage’ and ‘drapes’? Answer me that one if you’re not too stupid to do so.

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