Tag Archives: issues

UGC Advertising – The ASA STEP IN

As of the first of March, the Advertising Standards Authority now has powers over some user-generated content on the Internet. Excellent, you say. But what does this mean?

As the good people at ASA explain it, they now have jurisdiction over any marketing messages on an organisation’s website, or other ‘non-paid-for’ space under their (the organisation’s), control. And as a result, the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing now relates to that content. This covers rules about misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.

But when it comes to user-generated content it becomes a little less clear.

Basically, it relates to companies using your reviews or comments about their products in their advertising. Which they are perfectly allowed to do – you say that your hair has thickness and lustre after using Mane & Tail, then they can whack you onto their website as a testimonial.

The problem is separating genuine testimonials from cunning marketing ploys. A typical example might be the selection of positive feedback from message boards or social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook, or from specialized sites like Which? The ASA will apparently take a dim view of glowing reviews that are presented out of their original context – not taking into account, for example, negative opinions about the same product.

Of course, enforcing this will be tough. Quite how they’re going to do it is, as yet, unclear – there is talk of random spot-checks and reprimands for ‘persistent abusers’. But it will be based primarily on the complaint of concerned consumers.

And there are concerns. Some industry-watchers are worried that the rules are still too vague and don’t properly explain what constitutes ‘marketing’ – it’s all very well saying that online advertising has to be ‘legal, decent, honest and true’, but that doesn’t thrash out what the ‘marketing’ element means.

To conclude – it’s great that the ASA can now step in if user-generated content is used for evil. But it would be useful if they could just clear the situation up a little bit.




The Dark Side – problems with UGC

User-generated content is, by its very nature, an uncertain beast. Though content moderators stand valiantly between a torrent of prejudice and obscenity and the viewing public, they are not infallible – the users that generate are individuals, with their own, sometimes controversial, views.

There’s no better place to see this in action than YouTube; the world’s biggest user-generated site is host to some staggeringly different views. Leaving aside the moral debates, which are too plentiful and complex to go into here, there’s a serious business problem with YouTube. Though I myself have never indulged, I’ve heard rumours that some people watch full series of popular television shows through the magic of illegal uploading. As tirelessly as the moderators work, and as many channels are shut down or banned, the cheeky users endure. It’s not restricted to YouTube, either – Dailymotion, Megavideo are all equally plagued.

It’s this very truth that led to the enormous $1billion Viacom vs YouTube lawsuit of last year. Viacom alleged that YouTube had secured its popularity through tacitly allowing the unlicensed showing of network shows and not doing enough to combat the use of copyrighted music in original videos – such innocent videos as this:

YouTube were vindicated, after a nasty brawl that saw them accuse Viacom of secretly uploading their own material to get more ammunition for the lawsuit. But it does raise ugly questions about the legality of user-generated video and the fact that most users are either unaware, or not fussed, about obeying international copyright law.

Quite another area where user-generated content proves a volatile addition to a business model is the hospitality industry. Tripadvisor is now the go-to site for many a family heading off on holiday and in many ways, having a peer-review site for hotels makes perfect logical sense. These are the perspectives of ordinary members of the public, not professional hotel inspectors, and surely their priorities would be the same as yours – no cockroaches in the bath, no springs coming out of the mattress, and so on.

Cheap and cheerful, or stay away?

But here the magic of user-generated content comes in. The fact is that having a wide variety of different people reviewing the same location will result in a variety of opinions. Some, if reviewing a one-star hotel, will accept that it is basic and adjust their verdict accordingly. However some, outraged by the lack of amenities that they are accustomed to, will launch into a review of such articulate vitriol that it’s difficult to imagine staying in the same town as this hostelry – let alone the establishment itself.

And it does have an impact. Hoteliers are not happy about the combination of overwhelming negativity and potentially falsified positive reviews. There are complaints, both in the UK and around the world, that Tripadvisor has had an impact on peoples’ businesses.

Tripadvisor say that they have a rigorous screening process and that every effort is taken to ensure that only reviews that are fit for human consumption make it to the website. But that’s not enough for the hoteliers.

The site is increasingly popular and earlier this year the government announced that they would no longer back the official ‘star’ rating system run by organisations like the AA, citing Tripadvisor as a successful modern alternative.

The problems of user-generated reviews aren’t restricted to Tripadvisor. There’s Yelp in the US, or even the possibility of scathing feedback on Amazon. And it’s easy to be swayed by the opinions of your fellow man.