The Government’s woes have now spread to its advertising strategy with a £2.15m campaign to promote “levelling up” policies being censured, following a ruling it was not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
It is claimed the Government spent £590,000 to place advertorials with local news outlets in areas including Birmingham, Derby and Grimsby, as well as over £1m on out-of-home activity.
In total, eight advertorials ran in regional news brands owned by Reach, under the headline “Levelling Up! What is it and what does it mean for…?” followed by the name of the town, city or region in which it was placed.
Underneath that, text stated, “By Millie Reeves commercial writer”. On the far right-hand side, a grey box with the word “Advertorial” was featured. Directly underneath that, “Most Read” was stated and a number of links to other articles were included below that text.
But Lisa Nandy MP and Alex Norris MP challenged whether the ads were obviously identifiable as marketing communications, sparking an Advertising Standards Authority investigation.
In response, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities said it believed the advertorial labelling was both visible and prominent, explaining that block capitals were used in the word “Advertorial” and that it was set within a frame.
Ministers maintained that the labelling was in Reach’s house style and common practice across all of its titles. Reach bosses said they considered all of the ads to be obviously identifiable as marketing communications, adding that all of the ads were shown in the “Partner Stories” section of the website.
Even so, while it said the word “Advertorial” appeared in a grey box that travelled downwards as readers scrolled, it was later confirmed “that this technical feature was not in place at the time of the campaign”.
And the ASA was not convinced, ruling that despite being labelled with the text “Advertorial”, the full-page ads did not make it clear that they were paid advertising.
It stated: “We considered, within the context of the full-page ads, that it was not clear that the heading related to the ads and that readers were likely to overlook this text.
“Therefore, we considered, within the context of the full-page ads, that it was not clear that the heading related to the ads and that readers were likely to overlook this text.
“We acknowledged that the advertorials featured an infographic which included a HM Government logo. However, we considered that readers were likely to understand that the infographic itself was derived from a Government source and used in the context of an editorial article, rather than draw the conclusion that its presence meant the article was an ad for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.”
The ASA concluded: “The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, and Reach to ensure that all future marketing communications were prominently and clearly identifiable as such.”
A Government spokesperson said: “This was a small element of an important public information campaign about levelling up.
“The advertorial labelling was visible and prominent, carried the HMG logo and was in Reach’s house style for sponsored content. However, we accept ASA’s conclusions and will ensure these are reflected in any future materials.”
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