The Australian Association of National Advertisers — which sets the codes enforced by the Ad Standards Board — today announced that its code of ethics will “evolve” to explicitly require advertising and marketing content be “clearly distinguishable” to “the relevant audience”. But the new code only is narrowly construed to advertising that explicitly promotes a company’s products, leaving some types of content marketing unregulated.

It’s intended that the new requirement will allow the Ad Standards Board to adjudicate on complaints about editorial that is, in fact, advertising, if it isn’t sufficiently clear to readers. AANA CEO Sunita Gloster said the change wouldn’t necessarily require most advertisers to change a thing, as “most already ensure that their commercial communication is distinguishable as such”:

“However, with the rise of native advertising in all forms of media it is timely that we make explicit our commitment to ensure consumers are aware of when they’re seeing or listening to an advertisement.”

The new clause, which comes into effect in March next year, comes with a “best practice guideline” brief that outlines how the new clause will work. It says there’s no need for the advertising to be specifically labelled, as long as it’s clear to audiences that it’s an ad, which can be done in a number of ways, including through a logo.

It also gives a number of examples of different scenarios in which the clause could come into effect. One example given is of a sports website that runs an article on the 10 best cities for active holidays, with the article paid for by a shoe-wear brand whose logo appears in the article. This would be fine under the new clause, not because the advertising is clearly labelled, but because it isn’t advertising at all, as it doesn’t promote any of the shoe brands’ products. Content marketing is only relevant to the code when it is explicitly marketing the products of a company. As the vast majority of content marketing, however, does try to work in a company’s products in some way, it’s likely that the vast majority of advertiser-driven editorial content will be captured by the new code.

The Ad Standards Bureau regulates advertising in all media, giving the new code wide application across TV, print, radio and online (including social media)

The new clause is part of a broader transparency push in the Australian ad industry. The AANA has recently issued a discussion paper on ad views, which aims to look at ways to stamp out the practice of charging advertisers for ads served to bots instead of people. It also issued guidelines last month on structuring ad contracts to limit the undisclosed rebates in media buying. — Myriam Robin

Peter Fray

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