Posted on 04 July 2012.
Opening a can of worms is one way to describe what the ASA ruling has done to the digital marketing industry.
This article will look at what happened and why. It is important to look at how this affects the rest of us and what we can learn from it.
Many opinions have been voiced, all of which have very valid points on the rights and wrongs of the ruling but before we go into any more depth, here is a summary of what happened;
Two tweets for Nike were posted in January on Twitter from the official accounts of Jack Wilshire and Wayne Rooney.
- Rooney: “My resolution – to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion….#makeitcount. gonike.me/makeitcount”
- Wilshire: “In 2012, I will come back for my club – and be ready for my country. #makeitcount. gonike.me/makeitcount”
A single (yes one) complaint was received by the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) who, since April this year, have extended powers that cover company websites and other non-paid for spaces they control.
Nike put forward their defence as they, as many would agree, thought they had been operating within the guidelines. The main points were;
- Both players are well known for being sponsored by the company, as are the teams they play for
- Ahead of the #makeitcount campaign they had spoken to both players to determine what their goals were for the year, both then tweeted about their pledges and linked to a video in which they appeared
- The Nike URL was obvious within the body of the tweets, indicating the tweet’s purpose to direct followers to the Nike website
For more information on the ruling you can read it in full here http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2012/6/Nike-(UK)-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_183247.aspx
At the end of the judgement this is what the ASA had to say;
“The ASA understood that, as part of their sponsorship deal with Nike, the footballers were required to take part in marketing activities and that both were asked to submit their own ideas as to what to write as part of their tweet. We understood that the tweet’s final content was agreed with the help of a member of the Nike marketing team.
We considered the average Twitter user would follow a number of people on the site and they would receive a number of tweets throughout the day, which they may scroll through quickly. We noted the Code did not just require ads to be identifiable as marketing communications but that they must be obviously identifiable as such.
We noted the ad included a Nike URL which directed users to the Nike website and that it contained the hashtag, #makeitcount which referred to their new “make it count” campaign that launched around the same time the tweets appeared. However, we considered that the Nike reference was not prominent and could be missed, consumers would not have already been aware of Nike’s “#makeitcount” campaign and that not all Twitter users would be aware of the footballers’ and their teams’ sponsorship deal with Nike. We considered there was nothing obvious in the tweets to indicate they were Nike marketing communications. In the absence of such an indication, for example #ad, we considered the tweets were not obviously identifiable as Nike marketing communications and therefore concluded they breached the Code.”
What is important to note is that even though there was knowledge that a player has an association with a brand, it does not mean they can post an advertorial message with the assumption that the fan understands this.
It is obviously a massively grey area for all those involved and the lack of clarity from the bodies involved does not help the situation. For the international readers of UKSN, this ruling and the ASA itself only have jurisdiction here in the UK, but it’s a good to take note as this could take affect in others areas in the future.
There have been comparisons drawn up with other sponsorship/marketing messages that we are subjected to on a daily basis. For example, what is the difference between this and a golfer wearing a cap with a company logo on? I think the main difference is the context in which it is done, or the ‘passive’ Vs ‘active’ advertising taking place.
Wearing logo’s is a good example of passive advertising with the placement of the logo or ad being obvious that it is a marketing message. This could be a logo on a cap for example.
What would change this is if the athlete turned to the camera during a round and said ‘I love using XYZ clubs and would never use anything else!’. This is where there is a grey area, and social media sits smack in the middle of it. But when does passive become active and vice versa?
There is a need to make advertising easily identifiable and it already happens in other sectors. The best example that springs to mind is when a company runs an editorial feature within a newspaper instead of a straight advert. An advert is obvious in what it is and what it is intending to achieve. An editorial advertisement is harder to spot as it is set up in much the same as the other news stories with the publication.
What sets it apart is that it has “Advertising Feature” in an obvious place, usually the top. This means that the ‘average’ reader can easily spot that it is in fact written by the company and thus a paid for advert.
The ASA has recommended that in future, athletes (and celebrities/ambassadors) use a hashtag such as #ad or #sp in the copy of a message to make it obvious to fans what is a marketing message and what is not. This would bring it into line as much of the traditional advertising industry. But that does not mean it is as cut and dry as we would like it to be.
An example, which many failed to take heed of, was the Snickers Twitter campaign featuring Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price. Many will be thinking, why did that one get cleared and the Nike one didn’t?
Well the answer is that Snickers included 2 hashtags in the tweets made by the two celebs – #snickersUK and #spon. This was ruled by the ASA to be sufficient to make it obvious to fans of both of the celebs that it was a marketing message.
So what does all this mean and what are the issues remaining? and were the ASA right to step in on this one? Not everyone agrees;
Robin Grant, global managing director of We Are Social, told The Drum: “The ASA has made some questionable decisions recently which call into question its ability to properly regulate social media campaigns.
“It ruled that AMV’s Snickers campaign didn’t break the CAP Code when it clearly did and, in this instance they’ve ruled against Nike, when it could quite reasonably be argued that Wayne Rooney’s tweets did not fall within its remit.
“This is bad news for everyone, as incompetent and inconsistent regulators are in neither the industry’s or the public’s best interests.”
So, with people tweeting about different elements of their lives, including products and services that they are using on a daily basis where is the line to be drawn. If an athlete says “hey, just been to pick up my new XYZ car. It’s amazing!!” – and the car company is a sponsor of theirs, does this constitute a marketing message or is it just natural commentary of their life?
The ASA mentioned in their ruling that one of the factors was that a marketing executive had been involved in the text that was used in the tweets by the two footballers. So if Jack Wilshere tweets about his new boots that he’s just received and didn’t have anyone involved in choosing his words then this could, and should be, ok. Right?
It’s very murky water we find ourselves in.
The other issue is going to how it is going to be monitored. Currently there has to be a complaint for the ASA to act on. So a brand could carry on using athletes, being clever with the words used, and try not to get any complaints then they will be fine. But is it worth the risk?
From a brands perspective, if all their tweets coming from ambassadors have to include #ad or #sp will this lead to fans just ignoring them and their impact being substantially diminished? It would be interesting to see the difference between the two and if there is any.
In summary – be careful with what you plan and, to be on the safe side, put in the #ad hashtag when suggesting promotional tweets to ambassadors. Time will tell if anyone else falls into the same trap and if even the ASA ruling is correct. What do you think?