As the number and diversity of our entertainment options grows – different devices, different services, always-on, on-demand – the lines between advertising and entertainment can seem to increasingly blur. On TV, radio or the cinema, this is less of a concern – even if the content is more entertainment than advert, it will be clearly delineated as such. It will appear in an ‘ad break’ or separated off from the rest of the content. But online the difference can be less clear.

There has been much discussion recently of how sponsored content in social channels is clearly labeled as such. A recent ASA ruling on an Instagram post by Made In Chelsea’s Millie Mackintosh  promoting the drinks brand J2O. In this case it was ruled  that a hashtag #sp was not enough to clearly mark this out as paid-for marketing: “…we considered it was unlikely to be immediately apparent to consumers what the hashtag “#sp” was intended to refer to and, as such, it was also not sufficient to ensure it was obvious the post was a marketing communication.”

This ruling raises a clear focus for the industry – whilst we may think that we have clearly labeled that some content is paid-for, consumers may not be so clear.

There was clear evidence of this recently with the release of Ofcom’s 2015 report on Children’s media use and attitudes. Looking at how this group react to, and are aware of, paid for promotion gives a clear insight into media literacy.

Taking, first, product endorsement by vloggers and content creation – an increasingly key route for many advertisers and brands to a younger target audience. Whilst 47% realised that these promotions were paid for by the brand, more than half didn’t. 27% thought it was just that the vlogger wanted to share information with their audience; 26% that they genuinely think the brands or products they feature are cool.

Looking at paid search results you see a similar story. 21% of 8-11 year olds and 43% of 12-15 year olds realise that these results are paid for. About a quarter in each group think that these are genuinely the best possible results.

So whilst there is a job for the industry to better indicate when paid-for promotion is paid for; when an advert is an advert. There is also a media literacy need – both for these younger audience and indeed for all adults.


Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Head of Digital Strategy for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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