A new – and long overdue - piece of legislation was introduced in Jersey last week to give consumers an extra layer of security and protection.
The Consumer Protection Law doesn’t immediately seem like it has a lot to do with public relations, but certain aspects of the new law are very much to do with how messages are communicated and understood by consumers, including through the media.
Equivalent legislation has been in place in the UK for around a decade, so this new law is welcome in bringing Jersey standards of practice in line with those in the UK, and where PR professional standards are concerned, it will help bring a welcome degree of transparency in distinguishing between earned and paid-for (advertorial) content.
Of the 31 banned practices which the law states, number 11 is the one that is particularly pertinent to PR professionals and media platforms, reading as follows:
Advertorials and the media
11. You must not use editorial content in the media to promote a product where the promotion has been paid for by a trader (advertorial) without making this clear to the consumer.
For firms engaging in paid-for content, it’s important to understand that this applies across all media platforms – print and online, including social media.
With more of us spending time on the internet than ever before and scrolling through social-media news feeds regularly, boundaries need to be set to ensure that information sent our way is very clearly marked as paid-for and, clearly distinguishable from editorial or earned content.
It’s fair to say that up until now, in certain cases across local Jersey media platforms, what has been paid for activity and what has been pure editorial has been a bit of a grey area, so from a professional PR perspective, this Jersey law is good news. It ensures that everyone is being transparent and should serve to drive up standards in media relations and creative content creation.
It is not just a local issue but follows suit with what is going on further afield. For example, Twitter has opted to create its own set of rules. On the 24th October 2017, they announced that they would be introducing steps to dramatically increase transparency for all commercial posts on Twitter, including ‘political ads’ and ‘issue-based ads’, and would be improving controls for customers and adopting stricter policies.
Similarly, Facebook is gradually introducing more steps to increase transparency online, including adding additional transparency for all paid for content. The social media giant says people will be able to click “View Ads” on a page and view the advertisements, whether or not the person viewing is in the intended target audience for the ad. In addition, Facebook will require that all advertisements be associated with a page as part of the advert creation process.
For an example of what not to do, see the case in the UK in 2016 of an influencer marketing agency that fell foul of UK rules when it promoted services and products through its own social media platforms without clearly indicating it was paid for activity.
The biggest benefit of Jersey’s new legislation will be to customers and consumers, who will be better informed about where their information is coming from and whether it has been paid for or not.
But ultimately, businesses stand to benefit too – at the heart of this is earning trust, and if people are more aware of what is paid-for and what is editorial content, then this should help build better mutual understanding between businesses and their publics, enable businesses to earn greater credibility and authenticity, and be positive in the long run in terms of building trust.
Part of the CIPR’s code of conduct requires members to ‘deal honestly, transparently and fairly with others’, and the clarity that these new rules bring should be welcomed with that in mind.