"Zero Complaints" Over Undisclosed YouTuber Game Promotions
Regulator ASA says it needs to be made aware of shady deals; Landmark case blocks Oreo advertorial.
Despite widespread debate over clandestine paid game promotions on video websites such as Twitch and YouTube, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says it has yet to receive one official complaint.
Matt Wilson, a spokesperson for the ASA, told GameSpot that the group was "aware of disquiet" among gaming circles regarding undisclosed paid YouTube promotions, but explains that it cannot take action unless it is formally contacted.
"We've seen the news reports, and we're aware of the disquiet, but we haven't had a complaint about it yet," Wilson said.
"Obviously we have to manage our resources and look into adverts that people are complaining about. There are millions of adverts published each year and we need to be on-hands in dealing with the ones people are complaining about," he added.
"But if a complaint came in, we would absolutely look into it and see of there are grounds for further investigation. We encourage people to contact us if they are concerned about a specific games company."
The ASA is the UK's independent regulator of advertising practices across print and television. Now, thanks to a new ruling, it has powers to act on promotional videos on sites such as YouTube and Twitch.
On Wednesday, the ASA said it has set a new precedent by blocking videos from five YouTubers who advertised Oreos on behalf of the company. Despite no mention of Oreo paying for the content, the ASA said the content was "obviously identifiable" as marketing communications.
Landmark rulings such as these gives the ASA more freedom to make decisions in similar scenarios, meaning it now has a stronger grip on video blogger content in the UK. It also shows that the regulator also has means to block content paid for by overseas companies.
"Advertisers and video bloggers have a responsibility to be clear about when they are promoting content," Wilson said.
The ASA's removal of the Oreo marketing comes amid uneasiness within the games industry over undisclosed marketing videos by self-employed video bloggers.
In January, it was discovered that Microsoft was paying a YouTube network, Machinima, for positive coverage of the Xbox One. Both parties went on to defend their deal, claiming it was a "typical partnership". In the same month, it was discovered that Electronic Arts had paid some YouTubers for non-negative Battlefield 4 coverage.
Popular personalities on YouTube, such as Boogie2988, have suggested many times that paid promotions are not uncommon.
"If video bloggers are found to be hiding that they have a commercial relationship, then they risk reputational damage," Wilson said.
"We want video bloggers who are unsure about what's the right and wrong approach to contact us for help and advice, which we're offering for free."
The ASA did not suggest that the responsibility lies with platform holders such as Google (which owns YouTube) or Amazon (which owns Twitch). It also clarified that it only has jurisdiction over content that is available in the UK.
Asked what the ASA could do if a YouTuber refused to co-operate, Wilson explained that it has many options.
"There's two parties involved in this, so the advertiser would be held to account as well. They could face significant damage to their brand and reputation," he said.
"We don't want to go down this line usually, but there is a raft of different options we have for people who do not co-operate. We can, for example, place adverts around search results for people who do not take down offending content."
He concluded: "We also have the option to refer the case to a legal backstop, in the form of Trading Standards."
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