YouTube Product Placement (and Oreo) Take a Licking in the UK

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Like many problems, it started by licking Oreos.

Following YouTube channel AmazingPhil‘s Oreo “Lick Race” video in June, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) warned vloggers (web video bloggers) that any brands that paid for product promotion within their videos must be clearly disclosed to audiences.

AmazingPhil’s Oreo Lick Race has featured no such disclosure even though the segment did seem clearly sponsored. The ASA’s announcement means all such YouTube (and vlogger) is unlawful in the UK if it does not contain an outright disclaimer.

brandchannel spoke with one UK-based product placement pro about this latest chapter in the UK’s ongoing ham-handed approach to the blurring lines of product placement and native advertising. [more]

“How can you ever create a clear division between content and advertising in a world where brands are so important to consumers,” asked John Barnard, Chairman of Pinewood Studios-based NMG Product Placement.

Barnard—whose NMG group is celebrating three decades in the sector this year and works in projects as high profile as the upcoming Mission Impossible 5 as well as BBC programming—added that just this past weekend BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing (which inspired Dancing with the Stars in the USA) featured the Riverdance Irish dance troupe, which will soon be performing at London’s West End.

“Is that entertainment? Advertising? Product placement? Or useful information for viewers?” Barnard asked.

It’s been about four years since Ofcom, the UK’s independent regulator and authority for the communications industries, opened the doors to paid product placement on UK television. But even then, Ofcom required that “product placement must be signalled clearly, by means of a universal neutral logo.”

As Barnard pointed out, one of the problems of the ASA rule is that it applies only “to UK-created initiatives,” something that would seem to serve only to put British creators at a regulatory disadvantage.

In the U.S., tens of millions of ad dollars are being directed to campaigns with YouTubers and vloggers like Rhett & Link and “Good Mythical Morning.”

For example, YouTube music star Sam Tsui recently inked a partnership with Sour Patch Kids to create a high school-targeted “sweet and sour moments” campaign. The Los Angeles Times reports that 66 percent of media buyers “planned or bought media on YouTube in the last year.”

And then there is Universal Music, which is now teamed with tech company MirriAd to digitally insert new product placements in old videos. Those digital MirriAd product placements will not come with inserted disclosures, however,

For the record, the U.S. is not some disclosure-free wild west. The FTC does maintain a Dot Com Disclosures guide, but it does not carry the force of law.

“Life is full of brands,” Barnard commented. “The politician on the news promoting himself and his party is advertising. Where would the content for chat shows come from without Brad Pitt promoting his latest film, or footage from the latest fashion show, or Broadway opening? At the end of the day, guidelines cannot cope with this 21st Century reality. It’s the viewer who exercises control. Too much gratuitous brand inclusion equals consumer rejection. Sympathetic brand inclusion equals consumer appreciation.”

Barnard’s trust-the-audience reasoning is not conjecture. In 2012, just a year after the U.K. relaxed its rules, TV shows that overdid product placement generated waves of criticism from viewers.

Barnard says one need not look further than the recent controversy over James Bond story author William Boyd taking six figures to promote Land Rover in his new novella, The Vanishing Game.

“The latest best seller from one of America’s top crime thriller writers [The Escape by David Baldacci] mentions Lexus five times as a quality upscale vehicle and its price. Is that product placement, or just the author using a well established brand as a creative shortcut to explain an important aspect of the character’s life?”

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