A Liverpool Echo article about Black Friday deals failed to make clear that external links to products included in the copy were part of an affiliate marketing deal, in a breach of advertising standards.
Under the deal, the Echo would receive commission for any product sales generated as a result of readers clicking through from its website to the retailer, which in this case was Currys PC World.
The article appeared in November last year under the headline: “Currys PC World launches its incredible Black Friday 2018 deals with £600 off TVs.”
It has since been removed and “must not appear again in its current form”, the Advertising Standards Agency has ruled.
Press Gazette understands that Reach, which owns the Echo, has changed its policies as a result of the ruling.
The Echo article included a paragraph on “stand out offers” for Black Friday 2018, with three links to the Currys PC World website taking readers to discount offers on a TV, fridge freezer and laptop.
Reach said the article was an “editorial piece” and not part of a paid arrangement between it and Currys PC World owners DSG Retail, but instead was part of a deal with a “third-party affiliate marketer”. Neither had control over content, the publisher said.
A banner at the top of the article, above the headline, had stated that it was “in association with Reach solutions. Marketing solutions designed to grow your business”.
Reach solutions is the marketing arm of Reach, which owns the Mirror, Express and Star titles as well as a number of regional newspapers.
But the ASA said the banner had appeared “outside the body of the article” and said this would be “interpreted as being part of the website’s architecture and not a feature of the story”.
The watchdog said the banner’s wording was, in any case, “insufficient to identify the content specifically as advertising” and did not counteract the “impression that the content was entirely editorial”.
The fact that it appeared among other editorial content on the Liverpool Echo website also implied it was editorial, the ASA said.
It ruled: “Although the article included some general information about Black Friday, we considered the content was otherwise wholly concerned with the affiliate linked products.
“It was therefore an ad for the purposes of the CAP Code [the code of non-broadcast advertising and direct and promotional marketing], under which the commercial nature of that content should have been made clear prior to consumer engagement.”
It added: “Although we welcomed Liverpool Echo’s assurance that the article had been removed and that other content with affiliate links were under review, because the marketing communication had not made clear its commercial intent we concluded that it breached the code.”
A Reach spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the ASA’s ruling and have implemented procedures and policies to ensure we comply with it.”