Date posted: 09/03/2017 3 min read

New rules for content marketing – are you complying?

New guidance for avoiding legal trouble when rolling out your content marketing strategy.

In brief

  • Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach aimed at distributing valuable content to a clearly-defined audience.
  • The Australian Association of National Advertisers has updated its Code of Ethics, which governs advertising and marketing communication.
  • Five tips to avoid breaking the law when planning and rolling out your content marketing strategy.

The term “content marketing” has gained plenty of traction in recent years, but what is it and what benefits can it provide to businesses?  

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as, “a strategic marketing approach focused on distributing valuable, relevant content to attract a clearly-defined audience”. It often involves openly sharing online videos, articles and social media posts.  

Content marketing is an effective way to educate a target audience about a specific topic, establish an individual or business as a leading authority on a particular area of knowledge and drive traffic to a website. Most importantly, content marketing can be leveraged to build and grow relationships.

AANA’s new provision

The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) is a national body that exists to promote responsible and respected marketing practices, including content marketing.  

The AANA has a Code of Ethics which governs advertising and marketing communication and applies to any individual who promotes brands, products and services to Australian audiences. This includes business owners and managers charged with marketing responsibilities.  

The AANA recently included a new provision for inclusion in its Code, which came into play on 1 March. The new provision says “an advertising or marketing communication must be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience”.

The new provision is mostly aimed at social media influencers who are known to receive substantial payments from brands to promote their goods and services via social media. It seeks to ensure that advertising and marketing communications are clearly distinguished and to prevent the following types of conduct.

·      Brands paying influencers to promote a good or service, without any mention of being paid (or otherwise rewarded) to do so.

·      Advertising messages being hidden in the context of the regular reading or viewing of content experience (otherwise known as “native advertising”).

Comply, or else

This conduct is somewhat narrow in the context of general advertising and marketing and the Advertising Standards Board isn’t currently empowered to issue financial penalties for breaches of the Code.  

Without tough financial penalties ... advertising and marketing in Australia would resemble the Wild West.  

But the addition of the new provision is a timely reminder of the much larger issue: the requirement for businesses to comply with the deceptive trade practice provisions contained within the Australian Consumer Law. These provisions prevent a business from:

  • engaging in conduct that has the potential to mislead or deceive consumers in any way
  • making statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression
  • suggesting that an affiliation or relationship with another business exists when it doesn’t
  • misrepresenting the quality or characteristics of certain goods or services.

The courts can issue substantial financial penalties for breaches of Australian Consumer Law, and for many businesses those penalties can be crippling. For example, a court may penalise a corporation up to A$1.1m and individuals up to A$220,000.  

However, without tough financial penalties and the above types of conduct being regulated, advertising and marketing in Australia would resemble the Wild West.  

Five tips for keeping it legal

With the above in mind, here are five tips to follow to avoid breaking the law when planning and rolling out your content marketing strategy.

1. Be transparent at all times. Do not assume that your audience will know that certain content is commercial in nature.

2. Adopt a policy of disclosure with any content that is commercial in nature.

3. Display hashtags such as #sponsored, #paid or, at a minimum, #ad at then end of social media posts to make it clear that the material is advertising or marketing material.

4. Ensure that the overall impression of published content is accurate.

5. Be prepared to back up any claims made with facts and documented evidence.

Are you treating your audience with the level of respect they deserve? Or are you muddying the waters a little in the hope of increasing your bottom line? If the latter, then you are taking on the risk of financial penalty and potentially irreparable damage to your brand and reputation.