For some time now, so-called native advertising has been making its way into the Swiss media. This involves advertising content that is not intended to be immediately recognized as advertising; content, in other words, that seeks to deceive the readership about its true intent. In order to do justice to this new phenomenon, the Swiss Press Council specially revised its guidelines on the "Declaration of the Duties and Rights of Journalists," the Journalists' Code, in the summer of 2017.
Since then, Guideline 10.1 has stated unequivocally: "Advertisements, commercials and content paid for or provided by third parties must be clearly distinguished from editorial contributions in terms of design. If they are not clearly recognizable as such visually / acoustically, they must be explicitly declared as advertising."
Now, for the first time since the guideline was updated, the Press Council has dealt with a case of native advertising, partially approving a complaint against Blick.ch. A doctor took issue with an article published on the online portal in July 2018 entitled "Is IQOS less harmful than a cigarette?". the article described that more than 400 scientists in Neuchâtel were researching the "smoke-free future" for Philip Morris International.
Above the title, the following note was attached to a black banner: "Blick in Kooperation mit IQOS". Below the article, a footnote told readers what the article was actually about: "This is a paid article. 'In cooperation with ...' means that content is created on behalf of a customer and paid for by the customer. This sponsored content is produced by the Brand Studio."
In the so-called teaser linking to the article on the Blick.ch main page - a picture with the headline "High Tech am Neuenburgersee" and the title "430 Forscher tüfteln am Ende der Zigarette" (430 researchers are working on the end of cigarettes) - the logo of the IQOS company could be seen in relatively small letters at the top left and the text "In Kooperation mit IQOS" (In cooperation with IQOS) immediately below it. There was no indication that this was a paid contribution. Visually, the teaser did not differ from the other teasers on the page that linked to journalistic articles.
In its statement, the Press Council therefore comes to the conclusion that Blick.ch has violated Guideline 10.1 of the "Declaration" by publishing this teaser. The reference that the article is based on a cooperation is not sufficient, since the average reader will hardly know that such a cooperation is nothing more than advertising.
In contrast, Blick.ch did not violate the "declaration" with the publication of the article, since it is declared there - even if only in a footnote - that it is a paid contribution.
As a matter of principle, the Press Council recommends dispensing entirely with the word formations "In cooperation with..." or "Sponsored Content," which disguise the advertising character. These undermine readers' trust in journalism. Publishers should therefore always replace them with the unambiguous and accurate term "advertising.