Media Discovery (New Web Ltd) is encouraging blogs to run paid for advertorials, without disclosing to their readership that the content is an advert. This appears to be in breach of the advertising industry's code of practice.
Anyone who has ever run a blog is probably familiar with these sorts of email - I get one or two a week.
I recently sent you an email about hosting an advertisement on your site. I hope you received it, if not it may have ended up in your junk folder.
I believe we offer a very attractive system of advertising. You would be paid a yearly-renewable fee for placing a text-based advertisement that is appropriate to the topic of your site.
Please get back to me if you are interested in placing an advertisement on Shkspr.mobi?
This is what I got back:
After reviewing your website, we think that a new blog post would be the best and least intrusive option for you. We have two ways of doing this:
A) You are free to come up with the content of the article or blog post, but we do ask that it is in some way relevant to our client and is composed of roughly 300 words.
B) I can ask our copywriters to craft an article to fit your site.
To see an example, kindly visit: http://www.mycarreviews.co.uk/citroen-c4-review/. The advert can be found within the third paragraph - 'J.D. Power'.
We’ll pay you an annual upfront payment and we will endeavour to make sure that you are paid within two working days, using PayPal or Moneybookers. Working with a telecommunications, beauty, health, tourism or finance client would ensure you would get 130 EUR per year, while working with an online gaming client (poker, casino, bingo etc) would ensure you would get 140 EUR per year.
Please let me know if you're interested, so I can have your site assessed by our Technical Team. I can then send the advert details and client information.
Alternatively, if you have any more questions about this advert type, then please do let me know.
This is what the "advert" looks like:
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that this doesn't look like an advert. The site carries no mention of the fact this is a sponsored article.
(I've no way of verifying whether JD Power paid for this advert, or even if the blog's author is working with Media Discovery.)
I queried this - surely it's not right that advertising should be displayed in such a manner. Their response?
Thank you for your message.
We prefer it if our adverts are not marked out as such. They tend to be more successful when they look as natural as possible.
This is, as far as I can tell, an illegal practice.
There are various laws and regulations governing advertising in the UK. The Office of Fair Trading specifically calls out the following practice as illegal under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, the following is an offence:
Being honest about advertorials
Using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion (advertorial) without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer.
Can A Blog Get In Trouble For This?
There are two potential risks for bloggers who don't acknowledge the providence of their sponsored content.
Firstly is the issue of legal liability. I am not a lawyer - but I would be very wary of publishing content like this. Regulation 18 states:
Innocent publication of advertisement defence
18.—(1) In any proceedings against a person for an offence under regulation 9, 10, 11 or 12 committed by the publication of an advertisement it shall be a defence for a person to prove that—
he is a person whose business it is to publish or to arrange for the publication of advertisements;
he received the advertisement for publication in the ordinary course of business; and
he did not know and had no reason to suspect that its publication would amount to an offence under the regulation to which the proceedings relate.
I spoke to the ASA who confirmed that it was unlikely an individual publication would get in to trouble - they'd much rather go after the advertiser.
Secondly, major search engines - Google in particular - can completely remove you from their results if it suspects you have been spamming.
In the above JD Power example, the link doesn't use the nofollow attribute which further contributes to its spammy nature.
What Can Be Done
In the UK, the regulator is the Advertising Standards Authority. Unsurprisingly, they take a keen interest in the online space. After having a chat with their advisers, I have lodged a complaint with the ASA using their online form.
I don't fundamentally disagree with the notion of advertising on blogs - I use Amazon's affiliate scheme to earn a few coins, and I have occasionally run campaigns from ebuzzing. Crucially, I always explicitly say if a post is sponsored and who the sponsor is.
How can you trust a publication if they refuse to tell you where their interests lie?
If you're a blogger and have been approached by company trying to engage in deceptive practices, I strongly suggest you file a formal complaint against them with your local regulator.