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…