Editorial or Advertising?
The latest edition of What Doctors Don’t Tell You (December 2013) contains an article from self styled ‘Electrosmog Doctor’ (and dowser) Guy Hudson. I say article, but perhaps that is open to question, since amongst the general (and free to implement) recommendations he suggests some very specific and potentially costly measures readers should take which he is rather familiar with.
Top of the 10 point plan for reducing electrosmog in the bedroom is this
1. Sleep earthed and reduce dirty electricity. To start with, when I’m surveying I give absolute priority to creating a beneficial environment for each persons sleeping environment
and how does Guy suggest doing this?
a) getting them to sleep earthed and shielded from microwaves; and b) filtering dirty electricity from the mains wiring. These are quickly and easily achieved by using shielding earth sheets—polycotton sheets with stainlesssteel filaments tightly woven in—for the bed and Stetzer filters—devices that plug into electrical outlets to reduce the amount of dirty electricity in your home—which involve no real changes in habits or use of technology. These devices are available online from http://www.stetzer.co.uk.
The filters sound perfect for the concerned, yet lazy electrosensitive individual. Did he mention they are available from Stetzer? Oh he did and gave the website.
Stetzer wall socket filters cost between £225 (pack of 3) and £1050 (pack of 15), available from this website, who also happen to sell the recommended earth sheets (£80 for a single) and who provide a link to an ‘associated’ website who can provide surveys to see whether you need them.
The company that Stetzer recommend for the survey is Beneficial Environments Ltd and the surveyor they suggest is, of course, Guy Hudson. He was the founder of Beneficial Environments ltd – although according to Companies House is no longer a director – and in his own words they are
“UK Distributor for Stetzers – We distribute them because I couldn’t get them for myself! – simple plug-in filters – filter out potentially poisonous dirty electricity from the mains wiring in buildings.”
Now none of the above is illegal.
But I think the failure to mention this potential conflict of interest in recommending Stetzer in the ‘article’ is misleading. I also think it allows Guy a platform to make a series of claims about electrosensitivity and certain products, which are not supported by the evidence, and might be interpreted as an attempt to bypass the Advertising Standards Authority scrutiny.
In my opinion, this piece is presented as a editorial from an independent expert when it might rightly be considered to be a marketing communication, an advertorial.
The CAP Codes – What is an Advertorial?
The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotions and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code) requirements defines advertorials in this help note
“Care needs to be taken so that readers are not confused about whether the copy is marketing or editorial….[…]…An advertorial is an advertisement feature, announcement or promotion, the content of which is controlled by the marketer, not the publisher[…]…
with the rules stating
Rule 2.4 Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications, for example by heading them “advertisement feature”.
So there is no problem with publishing advertorials, as long as they are clearly marked as an advertising feature. The benefits of not doing this however are obvious. A well constructed deceptive advertorial can appear to be a third party endorsing a product or service and can be passed off as opinion or editorial content, making a range of claims not allowable in an advert.
CAP suggest that
A good benchmark is whether or not the company has final approval of text and any visuals used.
So what about Guys feature (p59-61 WDDTY December 2013)? I don’t know the editorial process that a seasoned journalist/editor like Lynne McTaggart goes through, but I would think an article in which
Physicist and seasoned electrosmog specialist Guy Hudson offers a 10-point plan for lowering electrosmog in your bedroom
and recommendations are clearly made by Guy in his expert capacity as a ‘electromagnetic surveyor’
To start with, when I’m surveying…[…]…I strongly advise having a corded phone that doesn’t need mains power…I don’t recommend low-energy bulbs…[…] I also recommend…[…]…
you might be forgiven for thinking he had direct control over the content, or authored it himself. He certainly had enough control to recommend the product he sells!
There is also a second criteria to the CAP definition of advertorials which is that they are
…disseminated in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement
Money does not always change hands when an advertisement feature appears but some other arrangement may have been made in place of direct payment…an advertisement feature covering a whole page may be run free of charge if the marketers agree to insert a paid-for advertisement at a later date.
This part is obviously quite tricky to establish, but its worth considering some of the ASA rulings to appreciate the wideness of the ASAs interpretation of reciprocal arrangements.
ASA Rulings on Advertorials
The ASA has ruled on a number of advertorial cases, most notably against Unilever and their seemingly on-going battle with Express Newspapers which are well worth reading. The latter was especially interesting because the newspaper was publishing their own editorials independent of the advertiser which extolled the virtues of products next to the adverts which didn’t make the claims and the ASA ruled against them.
Now there is nothing as blatant and repeated as the above examples in WDDTY but others have speculated on the possible correlation between advertising and general editorial content making misleading claims.
I don’t know what arrangements Stetzer have with WDDTY and I don’t pretend to. But Stetzer have certainly advertised in WDDTY previously and in my opinion, the piece is very open about pointing readers to their products. I think this should have carried a label to say it was an Advertisement Promotion’ or ‘Advertisement Feature’ and so I have submitted a complaint to the ASA to establish this.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the article repeats similar claims for Stetzer filters as those already found to be misleading by the ASA. I have written to WDDTY and Guy Hudson asking for clarification about the article.
Why are advertorials potentially important to WDDTY?
Now you may think, so what? Why bother complaining to the ASA about suspected advertorials?
The simple reason is that I think advertorials will become increasingly important to WDDTY as time goes by. This is because through the efforts of the Nightingale Collaboration and others, publishing a misleading advert in WDDTY seems to be a very quick and sure fire way of getting an ASA complaint upheld against you. It may be tempting in the future for advertisers to have a sponsored column disguised as editorial, or make reciprocal arrangements for favourable editorial content in exchange for advertising to avoid ASA scrutiny.
The second reason why advertorials are important is described in the CAP Help Notes
Responsibility both for the clear identification of the promotion and for its content rests equally with the marketer, publisher and agency. In the event of a complaint, the marketer and publisher are named jointly in any subsequently published ASA adjudication. The agency would also be identified.
So, while I wouldn’t recommend making complaints for the sake of it please keep your eyes peeled for obvious advertorials in WDDTY as they may lead to joint ASA adjudications against both the advertiser and publisher.
The ASA have considered the complaint and rejected it:-
YOUR COMPLAINT ABOUT STETZER ELECTRIC INC
Thank you for contacting the ASA.
I’m sorry to tell you that we can’t deal with your complaint because, on the information available, it would appear to relate to editorial material, which we are not entitled to regulate, rather than an advertising feature within the remit of the Code.
Having contacted the publisher about the article from Guy Hudson, we understand that they commissioned him to write the article, as opposed to him paying to place it or there being a reciprocal agreement which lead to its placement. As such, it would seem that this material does not conform to the definition of an ‘advertorial’ for our purposes and we can therefore not pursue your complaint further on this occasion. I would suggest writing to the Editor of the publication with your concerns.
So there you have it.
As long as your are ‘commissioned’ to write a piece of editorial content in a magazine you can seemingly make whatever claims you like for a very specific product, as long as there is no obvious reciprocal arrangement in place.