The Advertising Standards Agency has rebuked the Daily Express for allowing advertisers to control editorial content.
The advertising watchdog upheld three complaints against the Daily Express after finding the newspaper was “routinely publishing” features in which the top half of a page presented editorial on a product while the bottom half featured an ad that contained additional information on the same product.
The ASA said over the course of ten weeks the Express featured almost identical pages about an arthritis treatment called Copper Heeler on four occasions.
It said the top half contained an article relating to the use of the product by the mother of TV celebrity Christopher Biggins. The articles were accompanied by a photograph of Biggins and an ad for the company underneath.
The ASA said that pattern was repeated as over a six-week period two almost identical pages on weight-loss product LIPObind appeared in the pages of the Express, and that a similar strategy was used with menopausal symptoms treatment, LadyCare, three times in a two-month period.
The ASA said: “The articles were always, and uniquely, favourable to the product featured in the accompanying ad and contained claims that have been or would be likely to be prohibited in advertisementsâ€¦ whilst it was normal for advertising copy to be repeated on different dates, it was unusual for genuine editorial pieces to appear in the same or similar form in the same publication on different dates.”
In all three cases Express Newspapers told the ASA its reporter Alison Coleman had followed “usual journalistic practice” of speaking to the companies as part of her research then sent them finished text to “check for factual inaccuracies”.
Express Newspapers said the journalist had not been paid by the three advertisers – Orthotics Online, Goldshield and LadyCare – and the companies had no right to change the text.
The watchdog said claims made on behalf of all the advertisers were misleading and despite style differences between the ads and editorial, readers would understand the entire page to be a feature on the product.
“By using that approach, the publisher and advertiser were intentionally attempting to circumvent the code by asserting the top of the pages were not advertising.
“We concluded the routine publication of these pages and the nature of the articles strongly suggested a commercial arrangement existed between the newspaper and the advertiser and that the advertiser exerted a sufficient degree of control over the content of the articles to warrant the term ‘Advertisement feature’ or the like being placed above the articles.”
The ASA, which separately upheld complaints against all three advertisers, told the Express to ensure its advertorials were identified as advertisement features in future.