Advertising Standard Agency adjudication on advertising posted on Twitter

by Giulio Vecchi on May 4, 2012

in Analyses

ASA (Advertising Standard Agency), the UK’s independent regulator of advertising has ruled [1] for the first time on an issue concerning the distribution of advertising contents through Twitter official accounts.

The messages were distributed through two different series of five tweets posted in January 2012.

They were both related to Snickers (a product of Mars Chocolate UK Ltd.) and were posted from the official accounts of Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price.

The first four tweets were unusual in relation to the personality of the celebrities. The fifth unveiled the claim of the campaign by giving sense to the previous:  “You’re not you when you’re hungry”.

The tweets from Rio Ferdinand stated “Really getting into the knitting!!! Helps me relax after high-pressure world of the Premiership”, “Can’t wait 2 get home from training and finish that cardigan”, “Just popping out 2 get more wool!!!”, “Cardy finished. Now 4 the matching mittens!!!” and “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk#hungry#spon …”. The final tweet included a picture of Rio Ferdinand holding a Snickers bar.

The tweets from Katie Price stated “Great news about China’s latest GDP figures!!”, “Chinese leaders are now likely to loosen monetary policy to stimulate growth. Yay!!”, “OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only properly be solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys”, “Large scale quantitative easing in 2012 could distort liquidity of govt. bond market. #justsayin” and “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon …”.The final tweet also included a picture of Katie Price holding a Snickers bar.

The complaints addressed to ASA by challenging whether this type of advertising was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication and in general compliant with the Sections 2.1, 2.3 and 2.4 of the CAP Code [2] (UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing).

The defensive arguments of Mars Chocolate UK Ltd have been based on the innovative use of Twitter for marketing purposes which according to the company did not violate the requirements of the CAP Code.

In particular, Mars underlines in the first four tweets there were no references to products or services. On the other hand the fifth tweet explicitly refers to Snickers but this one makes the advertising clear by including the hashtag “#spon” which in Mars opinion is widely recognized by Twitter users as indicating advertisement or sponsored contents.

Moreover Mars considers the inclusion of a hashtag indicating “sponsored” in any of the first four tweets, given the absence of any reference to products or the advertiser, would have resulted misleading.

According to another interpretation proposed by Mars, the five tweets can be read as one marketing campaign generated by Snickers which makes sense only when the final tweets – revealing explicitly the marketing purpose – were posted.

ASA has considered the above arguments and noted that each tweet formed part of “an orchestrated advertising campaign”. Their function is to generate interest in the celebrities’ postings having the role of teasers. As some of them have been also published on the Snickers profile on Twitter, each tweet in ASA opinion can be considered as part of an overall marketing communication at the point each was posted.

Anyway, the lack of references to the product in the first tweets and the quick succession which ends with the claim “You’re not you when you’re hungry …” have been interpreted as sufficient elements to make the advertising clearly identifiable.

Based on such considerations, the final response of ASA is that the campaign was not in breach of the advertising regulation and in particular of the above mentioned provisions of the CAP Code.

Social media are encouraging new form of commercial communication featuring claims and straplines transmitted through tweets and campaign based on scripts to be posted on social media profiles.

Any further development shall take into due consideration the relevant legislation protecting the users and the consumers by providing them with the necessary information to clearly detect marketing campaign within all the messages, images and pictures posted on social networks pages.


[1] http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2012/3/Mars-Chocolate-UK-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_185389.aspx

[2] In particular the complaints refers to Sections 2.1, 2.3, 2.4 of the CAP Code:

2.1 Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such.

2.3 Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.

2.4 Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications; for example, by heading them “advertisement feature.

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