AHRC Workshop “Regulating Branded Content” at the University of Westminster
The Branded Content Network is an AHRC-funded project that facilitates networking between academics, practitioners, policy actors, civil society groups and other stakeholders to enrich the knowledge base of all stakeholders and advance collaborative research in advertising and branded content. On April 25, the Network organised a workshop hosted by the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies (WIAS) and the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) at the University of Westminster. The workshop brought together academics, policy makers, regulators, industry representatives and journalists in order to discuss policy realities and challenges that arise in the regulation of branded content.
The workshop showed that regulating branded content is confronted with a diversity of existing regulations as well as unregulated questions. Regulation seems to be diverging in a world of increasing media divergence. The complexity of these developments shows a need to better understand the many arising questions: How do users and audiences think about different forms of advertising, branded content and sponsorship? What knowledge do they have about branded content and its regulation? What possibilities are there for standardising rules for labelling advertising and sponsorship across different media? How do the public and different stakeholders think about the basic principle that all marketing communication should be identifiable as such? What is the role of theory and media ethics for better understanding branded content? How do users/audiences feel about the level of advertising, product placement and sponsorship? How can advertising, product placement and sponsorship on global media platforms such as YouTube vlogs best be regulated? How do users and audiences think about the blurring boundary between editorial content and advertising and what have their experiences been with native advertising? Is there a danger that citizens lose trust in the media if they feel deceived by advertising and sponsorship that is not adequately labelled and discernable from regular editorial content? What dangers are there for editorial independence in the age of branded content? How can policies best be enforced? What is the connection of fake news, big data and branded content? How can non-commercial communication spaces and public spheres that are places for citizen communication and not for trade and advertising survive and be strengthened?
The workshop was followed by a public event in Parliament, where network members and representatives of stakeholders such as the National Union of Journalists, openDemocracy, and the Branded Content Marketing Association discussed whether existing UK regulatory arrangements of branded content are appropriate and effective.
A day of intense discussion showed that branded content is a complex new development, whose regulation poses many open questions that need to be addressed by social research. The Branded Content Network works at formulating an agenda for conducting more research into the arising issues.