The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled on 20 June that two tweets for Nike posted by footballers Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere were not obviously identifiable as advertisements and should be taken down.
The tweet from Rooney read: “My resolution – to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion…#makeitcount gonike.me/makeitcount.”
The tweet from Wilshere read: “In 2012, I will come back for my club – and be ready for my country gonike.me/Makeitcount”.
The question was whether the tweets were in compliance with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code covering the recognition of marketing communications. The Code states the following requirements:
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 “advertising feature”.
Nike contended that since Twitter provides a more direct channel of communications between two parties than traditional media, the tweets should viewed in this context. They said that since the communications by Rooney and Wilshere were being made to their respective followers, who had chosen to follow them, these individuals would not be misled about the nature of the footballers’ relationships with Nike. They argued that the inclusion of a Nike URL, combined with the Nike campaign line #makeitcount, made it sufficiently clear that the tweets were marketing communications.
The ASA, however, noted in its ruling that while the tweets may be identifiable as marketing communications, the Codes require that they be obviously identifiable. They expressed concern that “the Nike reference was not prominent and could be missed.” They also expressed concern that Twitter users who were unaware of the footballers’ respective relationships with Nike might be misled. It was concluded that “there was nothing obvious in the tweets to indicate they were Nike marketing communications,” and the ads were thus found to be in breach of the Code. The ASA suggested that the use of some sort of identifier, such as ‘#ad’, would have clarified the marketing nature of the tweets.
In the wake of the decision, CAP has since issued guidance to assist advertisers in ensuring that their marketing is obviously identifiable as such. The guidance notes that Twitter advertisements can present different issues with identification than arise in many traditional forms of media. The suggestion is again made that the use of ‘#ad’ or ‘#spon’ is an option by which to avoid confusion about the nature of advertising tweets.
The guidance also presents a list of key questions which advertisers using any format should consider regarding compliance with the Codes:
- Will the audience quickly recognise the content as an advertisement because of the context (for example, because it appears on the advertiser’s own website)?
- Can the audience easily distinguish advertising from editorial content in the medium (for example, because they recognise differences in style)?
- Are advertisements presented in a separate space that audiences expect to contain advertising (for example in breaks in TV programmes or in a section headed “sponsored links” on a website)?
When the answer to any of the above questions is ‘no’, the guidance recommends that advertisers take further steps to ensure that advertisements are obvious as such.
Given the vast number of social media users, with different interests, backgrounds and knowledge bases, what may obviously be an advertisement to one may not be so obvious to another. Perhaps it is right to adopt a cautious approach to advertising through such mediums. If, as the ASA guidance suggests, the simple inclusion of ‘#ad’ or ‘#spon’ is enough to avoid compliance issues with the CAP Code, then it would be prudent for Twitter advertisers to tweet accordingly.