Oreo ruling raises questions on the relationship between brands and vloggers

Video bloggers are the newest form of celebrity and enjoy wide appeal due to their organic relationship with viewers. Their approachability has separated them from high-profile stars and allowed them to draw a wide following. This is why brands see them as the perfect candidates for campaigns.


However, that relationship was called into question yesterday (26 November) after the Advertising Standards Authority ruling on a Mondelez ad. The brand’s “Oreo Lick Race” promotion was the first to breach the code by blurring the lines between ads and editorial content. ASA suggests that it wasn’t clear whether the videos, created by top stars such as Emma Blackery, were editorial content or marketing communications. Mentions of the brand promotion within the video and a disclaimer were “insufficient”, according to the body.

So far, brands have enjoyed a healthy relationship with online personalities, giving them ample opportunity to tap into the stars’ vast following.

YouTube has traditionally been the social media platform of choice. Beauty brands have especially adopted the practise and groups such as L’Oreal, Estee Lauder and Chanel are frequently mentioned by vloggers such as Pixiwoo and Beautycrush who each have over 1.5 million subscribers to their channels.

Brands have also expanded promotion to Vine, due to the cult following the platform’s personalities develop with their six-second content.

Domino’s recently used the high profile Viners Hue Samuel and Leslie Wei for a “Pizza Quest” campaign where the duo search for the ultimate slice of pizza. The content has the potential of reaching 120,000 followers.

‘Vloggers could be seen as less attractive to brands’

It is possible that the ruling will have an impact on the relationship previously enjoyed by brands. Law firm Evershed’s media expert, Andrew Terry, believes that the ASA ruling could make vlogger outreach less attractive to advertisers. He said: “On the face of it this decision simply reflects that all advertising must be ‘obviously identifiable’ as a marketing communication”

“The additional twist here is the ASA’s insistence that the commercial nature of the video must be made clear before any customer engagement. That means that flagging the relationship at some point during the video is not sufficient, which may well make this kind of promotion much less attractive for brand owners.”

Previously brands enjoyed the authenticity of vloggers, and the clear labelling could make quite a difference in how often they use these platforms for content. Howard Kennedy solicitor, Alex Meloy, says: “Brands previously enjoyed this form of content as it looked more natural. With an ‘upfront notice’ at the beginning of the video it may change how advertisers feel about bloggers.”

‘Transparency is needed’

The ASA states that from now onwards there needs to be a clear distinction between adverts and editorial content so that viewers can make an informed choice. Previously, vloggers would announce within the content that they were featuring a promotion or they would write a disclaimer below the video. Now viewers must know that they are selecting an ad before they view it, which means that ads must be “obviously identifiable” in the title.

According to Meloy, if vloggers are promoting content they will have to make it clear that it is an ad by placing a clear graphic on screen, highlighting that it is an ad in the title or flagging the play button. “Disclaimers at the bottom of the video are not enough because viewers don’t necessarily read the small-print,” he said.

In the mean time Oreo has had to pay the price, although a simple change of the video label has meant that the content remains on YouTube with no change.

Jo Farmer, partner of advertising for the law firm Lewis Silkin told Marketing Week that when the advertiser is paying a vlogger to create content and mention their brand, it means that they have an aspect of editorial control over the content. This means that there will need to be a clear statement such as “paid advertisement” or “advertorial”.

Farmer predicts that many advertisers will have a great deal of sympathy for Oreo as a result of this ASA decision, as this has been common practice among brands. “Statements such as “thanks [Brand x] for the [products]” or “brought to you by [Brand]” were commonly seen on YouTube clips from UK vloggers,” said Jo Farmer, partner of advertising for the firm.

‘Be fair and don’t alienate’

ASA have been keen to note that they are not attempting to discourage a relationship between vloggers and brands, but simply want the process to be more transparent. They stated in the recent announcement: “We’re not here to regulate that relationship or to stop vloggers earning money.”

According to the regulators, vloggers will achieve more success if they are honest with followers as the authenticity of their material is what initially drew such a wide fan base. They further stated: “By dealing fairly and honestly with their followers vloggers can enjoy the benefits of their commercial relationships with advertisers without alienating their fan base.”