Starcom Mediavest and content marketing agency Tan Media have been fingered in a Competition & Markets Authority investigation into undisclosed advertising in online articles and blogs.
The CMA’s investigation found both marketing companies arranged for endorsements in online articles and blogs on behalf of MyJar, a short-term loan provider, without making it clear that they were advertising. This activity was carried out as part of their search engine optimisation (SEO) activities.
MyJar, Starcom Mediavest and Tan Media have all provided undertakings to the CMA that they will ensure all advertising and other marketing in articles and blogs is clearly labelled or identified so that it is distinguishable from the opinion of a journalist or blogger. The three businesses all engaged constructively with the CMA during its investigation.
The CMA has also written to 13 marketing companies, 20 businesses that use the services of marketing companies and 33 publishers of online articles and blogs, to warn them that helping to arrange or publish advertising or other marketing that is not clearly distinguishable from the opinion of a journalist or blogger may result in them breaking the law.
The CMA plans to publish open letters on its website so that all businesses, marketing companies and publishers are able to look at the steps they need to take to comply with consumer protection law.
This is the third announcement that the CMA has made in recent weeks aimed at maintaining consumers’ trust in what they read online in connection with shopping for goods and services.
After a separate investigation, the CMA announced in February that five online review sites have agreed to improve their practices in response to concerns raised by the CMA. The CMA also announced in March, following another separate investigation, that it had taken enforcement action against a marketing firm that, in 2014 and 2015, had written over 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses that were published across 26 different websites which contain customer reviews.
Nisha Arora, CMA senior director, consumer, said: “Opinions in blogs and other online articles can influence people’s shopping decisions. Failing to identify advertising and other marketing, so that it appears to be the opinion of a journalist or blogger, is unlawful and unacceptable.
“The businesses being promoted, the marketing companies arranging promotions and publishers of online articles all need to play their role and maintain trust online by ensuring that advertising and other marketing is clearly distinguishable from editorial content and that this is not hidden from the consumer.
“We understand that these are important channels for businesses seeking to promote products and services – but they need to do so in a way that complies with consumer protection law.”
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