Advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against Liverpool Echo over an advert promoting Currys PC World’s Black Friday deals. The article in question contained product links that, if clicked on, earned commission for its publisher, Reach plc. A complaint was made against the article, challenging whether it was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication as they took it to be an advertisement by Currys PC World.  

In response, DSG Retail Ltd t/a Currys PC World said that the links that led to the Currys PC World website were indeed connected to a partner in their affiliate programme who would have managed any commercial relationship with the Liverpool Echo. DSG Retail said they did not have any control over the commercial aspect or the content.

Meanwhile, Reach Plc t/a Liverpool Echo stated it was an editorial piece that was not produced as part of a paid arrangement and was, in fact, part of its editorial content. Liverpool Echo added that while it focused on Currys PC World, it was not requested by, commissioned by, or endorsed by Currys PC World or the brands in the article, nor did they seek their permission to publish the article.

The ASA found its CAP Code states that marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such. The ASA commented that the advert must be removed as they understood that, although the article did include some general information about Black Friday, the links in the article were affiliate links, from which Liverpool Echo would get commission. They also noted that the article appeared among other editorial content on the Liverpool Echo, and it, therefore, implied that the article, unless it was distinguished as such, was editorial. The watchdog concluded that it was, in fact, an ad with commercial intent and it had breached the CAP Code.  

As a result of the complaint, Reach is reviewing other content with affiliate links to ensure the same measures have been applied where appropriate.  

An industry-wide issue

This industry issue needs to be addressed because although program terms exist to combat this, publishers need to highlight ads as such and are still, clearly not doing so. Misleading advertising threatens not just the consumer but the merchant as it calls into question the viability of affiliate programs and those that promote the merchant. There are some positives to be taken from this though, as the transparency generates more trust from consumers, affecting how many affiliates the merchant wants to work with. Therefore, those that make the cut are more likely to end up with a better offering and fewer affiliates to compete with.

What are your thoughts on this industry-wide issue? Let us know in the comments section below.