UK (University of Stirling) New research sheds light on the UK branded content industry and need for advertising regulation

The UK Branded content industry, where advertising and media combine, is a fast-growing sector that needs better regulation, according to new research.

survey of marketing professionals found that a strong majority (68%) believe that marketing communications should always be identifiable as such. However, there was less consensus on the industry’s role in ensuring such identification could take place. Only 55% agreed that ‘it is an industry priority to help consumers to identify when they encounter marketing communications’, with 29% neutral and a small but significant minority (16%) disagreeing.

Two reports launched this week by an international research team led by University of the Arts London (UAL), the University of Stirling and Complutense in Madrid, Spain to explore the UK branded content industry and need for regulation.

Branded content covers a range of communications that are funded or produced by brands, from brands’ own media to ‘native’ advertising and content that combines marketing and editorial content.

The first dedicated survey on the UK Branded Content Industry finds that senior marketing professionals expect to see further strong market growth, especially in influencer marketing. They identify the greatest challenge as demonstrating the value and purpose of branded content to clients and want to see greater inclusion and diversity in promotional campaigns. Improving job satisfaction was also a key challenge, addressing pay and conditions, but also improving consumer trust.

The survey was conducted by the Branded Content Research Hub at UAL and supported by industry bodies, the Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA) and Content Marketing Association (CMA).

These attitudes to regulation link to the other report launched this week, Online Advertising Regulation: Policy Briefing. This report covers a period of intense scrutiny on how to regulate advertising online and via influencer marketing, involving consultations by the UK Government and the House of Commons Culture Committee.

The policy briefing examines these developments in the UK but sets them in a wider European context and includes a report on related policy developments in Spain.

Jonathan Hardy, Professor of Communications and Media at UAL and project lead, argued that regulations have not kept pace with developments in digital media and that the different treatment of communications across media leads to gaps and anomalies.

He said: “Currently, a teenage creator on TikTok, working without professional or legal support, has a greater obligation to reveal ‘incentivised content’ than the professional publishing sector.”

The briefing recommends that identification of advertising is established in law and enforced by a comprehensive, technology-neutral statutory regulator. The briefing states that ‘a statutory regulatory framework provides the best mechanism for clarity and guidance on legal requirements, to work alongside various forms of industry self-regulation… providing more detailed guidance on adherence and best practice.’

Professor Iain MacRury of the University of Stirling, said: “The Branded Content Governance project offers a unique research opportunity to explore regulation in a rapidly shifting technological, cultural and social environment. We are delighted to be contributing in an extended examination of this important field, and as part of an expert international team with UAL, in London, and Complutense in Madrid, Spain.

“The project’s close collaboration with and scrutiny of a range of industry and policy stakeholders will add depth, strength and interest to our evolving findings”

The Policy Briefing presents initial research work from the Branded Content Governance Project, a three-year international study of the rules and rule-making processes by which content that is produced or funded by marketeers is addressed in 32 countries, with an enhanced research focus on the UK and Spain.