We’ve all been browsing social media and come across a witty post shared by a friend. Maybe it refers to a favorite TV show or appeals to your current mood. If you were intrigued enough to click on it, you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually a fast food, fashion, or even gambling ad.
This type of advertising that has no apparent connection to the product and is clearly trying to sell you something is called content marketing. The UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) recently ruled that most content marketing advertisements are subject to its own regulations. While this decision relates specifically to the game, an ASA spokesperson told The Conversation:
Our mission also applies to advertising across all industries, so our statement for gambling reflects how we would approach content marketing for other industries, such as alcohol brands or chains. fast food. The vast majority of social media content from marketers falls under our purview and is therefore subject to our rules.
This could cause a big change in the types of ads we see online.
Content marketing is everywhere on social media – big names like the supermarket chain Took and the sports brand Nike uses it with great success. Forbes magazine has recommended that brands invest up to a third of their overall marketing budget in this type of advertising, with other research showing that the average among North American companies is closer to 26%. And it’s no wonder this ad format is growing in popularity, generating three times more leads than other types of marketing, but with a 62% lower cost of production.
But if you’re still wondering what content marketing is, it’s not necessarily accidental. Content marketing ads are designed to go unnoticed so you won’t notice that a brand – in this case fashion retailer ASOS – is posting a fun piece of news:
While the main goal of content marketing is to improve brand reputation and ultimately increase sales, the biggest benefit for businesses is that these ads are designed to allow you to make work. By sharing, liking or commenting, you expand the brand’s target audience across a myriad of social media user networks. You can’t do that for a “Buy 2 for 1” supermarket ad, but a photo of a cute cat next to a fan during a national heatwave might be a different story.
Of course, the idea behind content marketing is that you subconsciously build the connection to the brand, just as you share it with everyone in your network. This will create a positive relationship with the brand. Research shows that every time you (subconsciously) see funny or cute content from the same brand, those positive feelings get stronger and eventually lead you to start consuming their products. It’s a sneaky but very powerful form of advertising, but it’s also a game-changing form of advertising.
Until July 2022, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) did not recognize content marketing as an advertising format, so its regulations did not apply to such advertisements. This meant, in theory, that gaming companies’ content marketing posts could feature children, alcohol brands could encourage drunk driving, and fast food chains could target children. without violating advertising regulations.
While promoting drunk driving is far from a funny cat meme, curating content marketing ads on social media is crucial. First, these posts are misleading because most people don’t know they are promoting something. They can bypass the cognitive defenses we all use when we see an advertisement to prevent us from buying unnecessary things. Of course, the effects of this missing link are more detrimental to certain products or services.
For example, gambling is known to be addictive, so a traditional gambling ad will ring alarm bells for most people. But if gambling companies use content marketing, users can interact with the post without hesitation and eventually follow the account. Once that happens, they’ll be exposed to all the content on the account – not just funny memes, but highly engaging pop-up ads that encourage users to “click here for a free bet”.
Read more: How kids are being targeted by hidden ads on social media
We know this happens on a large scale. We previously wrote for The Conversation about our work on over 888,000 gambling ads on Twitter. We found that around 40% of these ads were content marketing, and many of them were quite appealing to children.
After pressure from our academic shows, a debate in the UK House of Lords and an episode of comedian Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back on Channel 4, the regulator stepped in to extend its rules to content marketing. The ASA now recognizes that most content marketing posts are actually advertisements and that any existing ad code should be applied to these posts.
This means posts like overheated chat can still appear in your social media feed, but must now comply with all regulations. For gambling, fast food or alcohol brands, this may mean that they cannot use content marketing without breaking regulations. For example, our previous research showed that 11 out of 12 gaming content marketing posts were highly appealing to children, which is not allowed under current ad regulations.
The publisher’s decision on content marketing is a sea change in advertising regulations. But the real work has only just begun, as the expansion brings new challenges. For example, if we consider that everyone’s social media feed is different and content marketing articles are usually published for a short time and then served by users, not advertisers, the implementation would be difficult. .
But the more fundamental question will be whether it is even possible to publish content marketing that is not overtly recognized by these new regulations. The whole point of content marketing is that we don’t know it or we wouldn’t share it. But that breaks one of the first rules of advertising standards, so every piece of content marketing will probably have to be marked as “ad” or “sponsored,” so we’ll have to acknowledge that and make it a lot less cool to share.
Therefore, this regulation could completely eliminate the practice of content marketing, which we believe would be a good thing. Memes can be cute and funny, but using them to sell unhealthy food or gambling services is sneaky, deceptive, and potentially very dangerous.