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October 11, 2022

Reach ‘levelling up’ advertorials for Govt banned by ASA after being found ‘not obviously identifiable as marketing’

By PA Media and Press Gazette

Seven Government advertorials on regional Reach websites have been banned by the ASA following complaints from two Labour MPs that they were not obviously identifiable as ads.

The native advertising appeared on Reach’s Grimsby Live, Derbyshire Live, Birmingham Live, Leicestershire Live, Chronicle Live in Newcastle, Cornwall Live and Wales Online websites on 13 March.

The articles carried the headline “Levelling Up! What is it and what does it mean for [place name]?”, the text “By Millie Reeves Commercial Writer”, a grey box with the word “advertorial” in block capitals and an infographic including the HM Government logo.

Labour MPs Lisa Nandy and Alex Norris complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ads were not obviously identifiable as such.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said they believed the advertorial labelling was both visible and prominent.

They clarified that the labelling was in Reach’s house style and common practice across all of their titles, adding that publishers were responsible for ensuring content was correctly labelled and followed guidelines.

Reach said the “advertorial” label travelled down as the reader scrolled through the page but later confirmed that this technical feature was not in place at the time of the campaign and therefore would not have been seen by readers of the ads.

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Reach added that readers would have seen the advertorials via a Facebook or Google advert or the newspaper’s homepage, all paths which were obviously labelled as marketing communications.

However, the ASA noted that while the ads were labelled, the statements did not reference the DLUHC and it was not clear from the text that the subsequent article would also be an ad.

The ASA said the “advertorial” label on the homepage was small and likely to be overlooked by readers who would also understand the byline “Millie Reeves Commercial Writer” to mean that the article was a piece of editorial content.

The watchdog also assessed that although the articles included an infographic featuring a Government logo, “readers were likely to understand that the infographic itself was derived from a government source and used in the context of an editorial article, rather than draw the conclusion that its presence meant the article was an ad…”

The ASA said: “We therefore concluded that the ads were not obviously identifiable as marketing communications.

“The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and Reach Plc to ensure that all future marketing communications were prominently and clearly identifiable as such.”

Reach has been in hot water with the ASA on several occasions in the past few years.

Last year the watchdog found that several paid-for tweets posted by Reach’s regional brands were likely to be in breach of its rules because they did not signal the relationship with the client using #ad. However the publisher avoided a formal investigation by promising to put better practices in place.

Similarly in September 2019 a series of tweets by the Hull Live account failed to signal advertorial content as such. The ASA also agreed to informally resolve the complaint on this occasion.

Six months previously, a Liverpool Echo article about Black Friday deals failed to make clear that external links to products within the copy were part of an affiliate marketing deal. The ASA said this breached advertising standards.

Picture: ASA/PA Media

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