Buzzfeed UK has been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for failing to clearly label paid-for content.
The site's entire revenue comes from sponsored editorial, rather than advertising, so today’s ruling could have a wide impact on the business.
The complaint was made over an advertorial for fabric dye manufacturer Dylon published in October 2015 headed: “14 Laundry Fails We’ve All experienced”.
The post followed the same style as independent Buzzfeed editorial with a series of photos and social media posts highlighting laundry “fails”.
Below the headline the words “Dylon Brand Publisher” appeared alongside the logo for Dylon’s Colour Catcher product.
At the bottom of the piece the text said: “It’s at times like these we are thankful that Dylon Colour Catcher is there to save us from ourselves. You lose, little red sock!”.
Buzzfeed UK told the ASA it followed the US site as a guide to how it labelled ads.
It noted that where the ad was promoted on the site’s homepage it was flagged with a highlighted label in yellow, which stated “PROMOTED BY” followed by the Dylon name and logo.
It said that where the ad appeared in search listings, it was flagged with a highlighted label in yellow, which stated “ADVERTISER”, followed by Dylon’s name and logo.
The ASA said it was not immediately clear on the web page that it featured advertorial content and noted that many readers would come to the page via other routes than the homepage or search.
It noted that the right-hand side of the upper part of the web page featured a live feed from Dylon’s Colour Catcher Facebook page, followed by links to two “Top Posts From Dylon” which were also advertorial content on BuzzFeed.
On the text at the bottom of the web page – which stated: “It’s at times like these we are thankful that Dylon Colour Catcher is there to save us from ourselves” – the ASA said: “While we acknowledged that these elements implied a connection with Dylon, we considered they were not sufficient to make clear that the main content of the web page was an advertorial and that editorial content was therefore retained by the advertiser.”
The ASA added: “We further noted that the web page was very long and visitors to it would therefore not see the reference to Dylon Colour Catcher at the bottom of the page until they had already engaged with the content.
“We acknowledged the inclusion of the label ‘Brand Publisher’ near the top of the web page next to the Dylon name and logo, but we considered it was not particularly prominent and the terminology did not, either in itself or in conjunction with the other page elements, adequately convey the commercial nature of the content to consumers.
“We therefore concluded that the ad was not obviously identifiable as such and that it therefore breached the Code.
“The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Henkel Ltd and BuzzFeed UK Ltd to ensure that ads were obviously identifiable as marketing communications, including by using labels other than ‘Brand Publisher’ for advertorials.”
Buzzfeed spokesman said: "We're currently reaching out to the ASA to speak with them about this recent update. We're always testing and iterating our ad products and will be reviewing the guidelines accordingly."
Altough Buzzfeed appears to have taken down the Dylon posts, it has not changed the wording on other advertorials which appear on the site.