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Watchdog warns against hidden product advertising in articles and blogs

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  • 04/04/2016
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Watchdog warns against hidden product advertising in articles and blogs
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has secured powers to tackle the use of undisclosed advertising in online articles and blogs following an investigation into marketing companies.

Two marketing companies, Starcom Mediavest and TAN Media, have been warned about their use of endorsements in online articles written for a short-term loan provider, MYJAR, which were not made clear that they were advertising.

Over 60 businesses have been contacted by the CMA warning that they could be breaking the law by publishing advertising that is not clearly distinguishable from editorial content published by journalists and bloggers, for example. The firms include those that employ the services of marketing companies, marketing companies and publishers of online articles and blogs.

The announcement is the third the CMA has made of its kind in recent weeks. A separate investigation which was published last month saw the CMA take enforcement action against a marketing firm, which wrote over 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses over 2014 and 2015. The reviews were published on 26 different websites which contain genuine customer reviews. None of the firms named in the CMA’s most recent investigation were involved in writing or commissioning fake reviews.

Open letters will be published by the CMA in due course on its website to demonstrate what steps firms need to take to ensure they comply with consumer protection law.

Nisha Arora, CMA senior director, consumer, said: “Opinions in blogs and other online articles can influence people’s shopping decisions. Failing to identify advertising and other marketing, so that it appears to be the opinion of a journalist or blogger, is unlawful and unacceptable. The businesses being promoted, the marketing companies arranging promotions and publishers of online articles all need to play their role and maintain trust online by ensuring that advertising and other marketing is clearly distinguishable from editorial content and that this is not hidden from the consumer.

“We understand that these are important channels for businesses seeking to promote products and services – but they need to do so in a way that complies with consumer protection law.”

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