The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has cleared an advertising campaign for the Snickers brand featuring tweets by celebrities, including Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price. The ASA had been investigating whether the commercial nature of the tweets had been properly disclosed.
The celebrities in question posted a number of ‘out of character’ tweets followed by pictures of themselves eating a Snickers bar with the Snickers advertising slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry”, and the hashtag #spon (used to denote that a tweet has been sponsored or paid for).
The issue under investigation was whether the initial teaser tweets should have indicated that they were part of a larger advertising campaign. The ASA ruled that the teaser tweets did in fact constitute marketing messages but, considering that consumers would understand that each series of tweets was a marketing communication when viewed in its entirety, it was acceptable the preceding tweets were not individually labelled.
The ASA investigation is the latest clash between consumer watchdogs and companies who are increasingly trying to tap into the marketing potential of social media and blogs. In late 2010, the UK Office of Fair Trading brought enforcement proceedings against a PR firm for deceptive advertising practices after it was discovered that the firm had paid bloggers to write positive comments about its clients. Similarly, the US Federal Trade Commission has launched guidelines in relation to such endorsements on social media and blogs. The guidelines insist that the person tweeting or blogging in relation to a paid endorsement should make this fact clear, for example by the use of the #spon hashtag.
There are no specific guidelines on this issue in Ireland. It is however possible that tweeting and blogging without proper disclosure of the endorsement could be caught by the prohibition on misleading commercial practices under the Consumer Protection Act 2007. With the use of social media increasing on a daily basis it seems likely that this issue will arise in an Irish context in the near future. In the meantime, Irish businesses should ensure that any celebrity endorsements of their products and services are clearly identified as being sponsored.
Contributed by John Magee and John Farrell.
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