Bad news could be on the horizon for YouTube creators who like to keep their relationships with brands on the DL, at least in the UK. Prompted by a complaint from a BBC journalist, the Advertising Standards Authority has warned YouTube creators in the UK that paid product promotions must be clearly labeled as such. That means that sponsored videos in which YouTubers directly or indirectly endorse a specific brand or product now need to carry a disclaimer identifying them as a marketing communication.
The source of the initial complaint was a video from high profile vloggers Dan Howell and Phil Lester, better known as Danisnotonfire and AmazingPhil. Back in June, Dan and Phil participated in a promotion called the Oreo Lick race. In the video Lester tells the audience that he was contacted by Oreo to participate in the challenge, but does not directly disclose the fact that he and Dan were paid for their participation by Oreo parent company Mondelez. The ASA ruled that because the video does not differ noticeably from the kind of content usually posted on the AmazingPhil YouTube channel it would not be immediately recognizable as an ad and therefore must carry a disclaimer clearly identifying it as an paid marketing message. The video has since been annotated to reflect that fact. The Guardian reports that YouTube creators Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell, Emma Blackery and PJ “KickThePJ” Ligouri received similar warnings after participating in the promotion.
An unintended consequence of YouTube’s continuing breakthrough into the mainstream is the increasing presence of regulation. In the United States, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission recently recommended that regulators start subjecting YouTube campaign ads to the same rigorous disclosure standards as television ads given their potential to reach as many if not more people. Before it entered its misogynistic death spiral to crazy town, the so-called GamerGate movement raised similar concerns over YouTube creators and paid gaming promotions.
At the moment, the United States has no similar rule, meaning that YouTubers are free to snuggle up with Taco Bell and Uber to their heart’s content without identifying those paid promotions as ads. YouTube’s entry into the mainstream has led to increased understanding among viewers of how content creators earn money from their content. As a result YouTube audiences have proven themselves increasingly tolerant of sponsored and branded content. Despite the presence of sponsored content across the platform, complaints like the one filed against the Oreo campaign have been few and far between, suggesting that viewers are not overly concerned with having paid promotions clearly identified.