Advertisements must be easily recognisable as such, regardless of the method of presentation or advertising channel. Consumers have the right to know when attempts are being made to influence them commercially. This requirement concerning the recognisability of marketing applies to all forms and channels of marketing, including social media.
The fact that it is an advertisement and the identity of the advertiser must be clearly discernible from any advertisement. This means that in order for advertising to be recognisable, this information should be presented at the beginning rather than the middle or end. General principles:
- Commercial messages may not be hidden in other communications.
- The advertiser must be recognisable from the advertising.
- Subliminal and hidden advertising are never acceptable.
The stipulations of the Consumer Protection Act apply to all the responsible parties, including the advertiser and the distributor of the advertisement (e.g. a TV channel).
Placement in advertising
The recognisability requirement applies not only to the content and presentation of advertisements, but also to their placement. Advertisements must be clearly separated from other materials. It must be clear to the audience where the advertisements begins and ends. How this separation is to be achieved depends on the advertising channel.
Presentation of advertising
An advertisement must be recognisable as such without closer scrutiny. Recognisability is easily jeopardised if a print advert looks like an article, a TV advert looks like a well-known programme (with the same actors), a social media influencers advertise something in a format that resembles their usual content or a toy is advertised by a well-known cartoon hero.
Interviews with and statements from private individuals may be used in marketing as long as the claims they make concerning the properties and effects of the product can be proved and the advertisement is clearly recognisable.
Offers may not be presented in a manner reminiscent of a bill or debt collection letter. It must be possible for consumers easily to understand that an advertisement is an offer that does not require a reaction unless they wish to order the item in question.
Companies that send their products to bloggers in the hope that they will receive positive reviews in blogs must advise the bloggers to openly disclose the partnership or the receipt of goods or benefits free of charge in conjunction with the reviews.
Companies must ensure sufficient guidelines also for other type of influencer marketing. The guidelines must take into account the special characteristics of each marketing media and channel (e.g. blog, video blog, photo blog). For example, in the Consumer Ombudsman’s opinion, simply stating on YouTube that a video “includes paid advertising content” is not sufficient on its own, because it does not indicate for whom the marketing is performed or who the advertiser is. Moreover, the mere verbal announcement of marketing on the video is insufficient, because the viewer must be able to immediately identify the content as marketing.
Informing consumers of sales intent
If the intention is to sell something to a consumer, the consumer must be informed of this from the first contact. In telephone sales, the commercial purpose of the call must be indicated at the very start of the conversation.
Products may not be marketed as gifts, lottery wins or other discounts or benefits if the consumer is expected to make a payment. Nor may the sale of products be disguised as research, and any research must be kept clearly separate from marketing. Ethical Code of Conduct from the Finnish Association of Marketing Research Agencies
Children and young persons as a target group
Underage persons (children and adolescents under the age of 18) enjoy a special position in the Consumer Protection Act. Marketing targeted at underage persons is subject to stricter rules than other marketing, because children can be considered to be more susceptible to the effects of marketing due to their limited knowledge or experience.
The ability of children or young persons to understand marketing is greatly affected by their development stage and age. However, strict age limits within the underage group cannot be set. Factors to take into account include what products children and young persons are typically interested in and what channel or connection has been used for the marketing.
Moreover, children and especially young persons often form the prime target group for influencer marketing. Therefore it is important that companies engaged in this kind of marketing take into account the special position of underage persons especially when instructing the influencers.
Marketing that normally reaches underage persons may be treated in the same way as marketing specifically targeted at them. The target group affects the requirements for recognisability. Young children may not easily discern the difference between advertising directed at children and children’s programmes. Recognisability is further hampered if the advertisement is disguised in the form of a task, competition, story or cartoon.
- Direct incitements to buy may not be made by children or addressed to children.
- Children’s programmes with a duration of over thirty minutes may contain advertising.
- Games, pastimes and other entertainment must be clearly separated from advertisements.
- Child actors may only be used in advertising when it is particularly justified. It is justified if they are naturally linked with the product being advertised.
Children as consumers