ASA uses its power to ban a Twitter campaign for the first time

Speaking at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity on 19 June, Coca Cola’s most senior marketer Joseph Tripodi called on marketers to take a “leap of faith” and embrace social media as a brand building tool. However, as Nike discovered the very next day, advertising using social media is not free from constraints.

Since 1 March 2011 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has had the power to oversee businesses’ marketing communications on their own websites, as well as on social networking sites and other “non-paid-for” space online, to ensure that they comply with the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Code.

The first major case that forced the ASA to look at advertising on social media came to light earlier this year when it launched an investigation into tweets by celebrities such as Katie Price and Rio Ferdinand promoting Snickers. The campaign involved celebrities posting a string of bizarre tweets ending with “You’re not you when you’re hungry@snickersUk#hungry#spon” and a picture of them holding a Snickers. The ASA ultimately dismissed the complaints against Mars finding that the inclusion of the #spon hashtag in the final “reveal tweets” made them clearly identifiable as marketing communications.

There has since been a noticeable increase in the number of sponsored tweets or “tweeting for money” and this looks set to continue. However, in the first case of its kind, the ASA has taken action to “ban” a campaign which features them. As part of its “Make it Count” campaign, Nike UK used the personal Twitter account of footballer Wayne Rooney to post the following tweet:

Nike posted a similar tweet on the account (subsequently deleted for unconnected reasons) of Arsenal footballer Jack Wilshere:

Jack Wilshere – “In 2012, I will come back for my club – and be ready for my country. #makeitcount gonike.me/Makeitcount”.

Responding to a complaint that the tweets were not clearly identified as advertising, Nike claimed that both footballers were well known for being sponsored by Nike and argued that Twitter users would not be misled about its relationship with the players. Nike took the view that the presence of the Nike URL and campaign strap line #makeitcount within the body of the tweets, indicated that the purpose of the tweets was to direct followers to the Nike website and made it sufficiently clear that the tweets were advertising.

The ASA disagreed, finding that the reference to Nike was not prominent and could be missed, making the tweets not obviously identifiable as advertising and putting them in breach of the CAP Code. The ASA held that as not all Twitter users would know about the players’ sponsorship deals with Nike, the tweets should have featured an indication hashtag, such as #ad or #spon, to make it clear that they were marketing communications.

Just the one complaint?

It is interesting to note that the Nike campaign was banned by the ASA despite only receiving one complaint. To coincide with its 50th anniversary, the ASA has recently released a list of the most complained-about ads of all time.

Top of the list was a TV advert for Kentucky Fried Chicken which aired in 2005 and featured call centre workers singing with their mouths full of food. The ad received a record 1,671 complaints with many people considering that it could encourage bad manners among children. However, despite the record number of complainers, the complaint was not upheld by the ASA, which ruled that the ad was unlikely to change children’s behaviour or undermine parental authority.

The other ads to make the top 10 were:

2. Auction World (2004): Shopping channel – 1,360 complaints – referred to Ofcom

3. Paddy Power (2010): Cat being kicked by blind football player – 1,313 complaints – not upheld

4. The Christian Party (2009): Poster saying “There definitely is a god” – 1,204 complaints – not upheld

5. British Safety Council (1995): Condom advert featuring Pope – 1,192 complaints – upheld

6. Marie Stopes International (2010): TV ad offering sexual and reproductive healthcare advice –  1,088 complaints – not upheld

7. Volkswagen (2008): Depicted an engineer fighting multiple versions of himself – 1,070 complaints – partially upheld

8. Yves St Laurent (2000): Poster of naked reclining Sophie Dahl – 948 complaints – upheld

9. Department of Energy and Climate Change (2010): Press and TV campaign about climate change – 939 complaints – upheld in part

10. Barnardo’s (2008): TV campaign about domestic child abuse – 840 complaints – not upheld.