A Blurry Look at the UK’s Specific Scenario Vlogger Ad Guidance


CAP Vlogging Guidelines

AmazingPhil’s Oreo Lick Race can be thanked for this.

For the third time in as many years, the UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has released disclosure guidance for video bloggers (aka, the horribly named, “vloggers”). If the CAP’s previous rules left vloggers unclear, its new set of guidance offers a handful of specific scenarios where disclosure is required.


Oreos Lick

But then it provided no ruling on what that disclosure should be.

“Is that entertainment? Advertising? Product placement? Or useful information for viewers?” That’s how John Barnard, Chairman of UK’s Pinewood Studios-based NMG Product Placement, reacted to CAP’s previous ruling in 2014 in a brandchannel interview about CAP’s rules demanding clear disclosure by vloggers.

That move came after popular YouTuber AmazingPhil broadcast an Oreo “Lick Race” video. The video segment was sponsored by Oreo’s parent company but featured no disclosure of the fact. After over a millions views, the video was pulled by regulators. The UK is full of influential star vloggers.

But in the eight months since Oreogate (LickRacegate?), vloggers have stumbled around unsure about specifics of the guidance and exactly when and how they need to be in compliance. So now CAP has gone into the weeds to explain, specifically and simply, sponsored vloggging. The eight-point guidance document is a specifically and simply titled “Video blogs: Scenarios.” A short summary of the scenarios is below (though vloggers should read the specific full descriptions at the CAP’s site.)

1. Online marketing by a brand
A brand collaborates with a vlogger and makes a video blog (“vlog”) about the brand and/or its products and this video is uploaded to the brand’s own channels and then shared by the brand on their own social media channels.
Disclosure? Yes

2. Advertorial vlogs
A video is in the usual style of the vlogger but the content is controlled by the brand and the vlogger has been paid (not necessarily with money).
Disclosure: Yes (The CAP refers to “advertisement feature” as an appropriate label BEFORE the content runs.)

3. Commercial breaks within vlogs
Most of the vlog is editorial material that contains independent, non-paid for opinion, with a specific section dedicated to the promotion of a product.
Disclosure? No.

4. Product placement
The vlog’s independent editorial content includes an embedded commercial message such as a prop. For example, a computer game “play-through” video is paid to feature a specific laptop by a brand; a make-up tutorial where the vlogger features a specific set of brushes.
Disclosure? Um, maybe?

5. A vlogger’s video about their own product
The sole content of a vlog is a promotion of the vlogger’s own merchandise.
Disclosure? Yes. (probably)

6. Editorial video referring to vlogger’s products
A purely editorial vlog that includes the vlogger’s own merchandise.
Disclosure? “Unlikely”

7. Sponsorship
A brand sponsors a vlogger to create a video but has no control of the content.
Disclosure? No (maybe)

8. Free items
A brand sends a vlogger items for free without any control of the content (or any conditions attached) and the vlogger may or may not choose to include the item(s) in a vlog.
Disclosure? No (maybe)

The problem with the CAP’s new guidance is that while it does a good job of imagining what specific scenarios might lead to blog content it does a right bullocks job of providing simple yes or no answers about disclosure.

For example, in scenario 4 above, the CAP disclosure guidance:

“It’s unlikely that a clarification note in the video title would be required, but the commercial message should be clear… this can be done in a number of ways depending on the vlogger’s style: onscreen text stating ‘ad’, ‘product placement’, holding up a sign, or the vlogger explaining that they’ve been paid to talk about the product. For example a beauty vlogger might say something like “In this tutorial I’m using brushes from Brand X, who paid for me to feature them and want you to know about…’.”

Or, CAP’s guidance for disclosure on scenario 7:

“Sponsorship is not covered by the CAP Code, and because there is no control by the brand, the CAP Code would not require the vlog to be labelled as an advertorial. From a practical perspective, these videos are likely to have a nod to the sponsorship so viewers know who the sponsor is! Vloggers and brands should be mindful that the CMA would expect a vlogger to disclose the nature of their commercial relationship with a brand in order to comply with consumer protection legislation, but we would expect it’s likely that having a nod to the sponsorship would meet those expectations.”


But continued confusion about CAP’s “specific” new guidelines is not the only criticism. In PR Week, the Founder of brand incubator Pretty Green, Mark Stringer, argues that the  disruptive technology of vlogging is to advertising what Uber is to taxi companies and that agencies and “creative purists hate the idea that a bunch of untrained, amateur kids have stolen the limelight.” Stringer argues that for CAP to over-regulate vlogging right now raises the “a danger this incredibly exciting new medium is curtailed, stifled and, ultimately, ruined.”

Similar to Barnard’s comments last year, Stringer says the “general public isn’t stupid” and calls for self-regulation on behalf of both vloggers and the brands that have found partnering with them so appealing.

It’s worth noting that UK’s authorities are not the only ones concerned with advertising’s rapid spread into social media. Since 2009, the US Federal Trade Commission has required bloggers “to clearly disclose any ‘material connection’ to an advertiser, including payments for an endorsement or free product.” And in June, the agency released similar specific disclosure guidance for Twitter.

(Above: A March 2015 “McDonald’s Ad” vlog with over a million views from Brit vlogger ThatcherJoeVlogs)