The Advertising Standards Authority, the advertising watchdog in the UK, did something this week that has not been done before. It banned a twitter campaign. Why? Because it determined that it was not clear that tweets were actually advertisements.
Two Nike spokespeople, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, tweeted on behalf of the campaign. According the BBC, the ASA received one complaint about two tweets from the two spokespeople (one complaint? The British are so darned polite...) that mentioned Nike’s #makeitcount campaign.
"My resolution - to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion...#makeitcount gonike.me/makeitcount".
"In 2012, I will come back for my club - and be ready for my country gonike.me/Makeitcount"
Nike fought back (politely, I’m sure) by pointing out that that “gonike.me” URL should be a good clue to users that those tweets were Nike campaign related, in addition to the other tip off that both players are known spokespeople for the company. But the watchdog agency contends that it still wasn’t obvious, since Twitter users scroll super fast through their feeds (you have to; have you seen the amount of stuff on Twitter?)
I mentioned that this is unprecedented. Never before has a Twitter campaign been banned by the ASA before. Companies and organizations all over the globe use social media to creatively encourage users to buy their goods and services. Social media is all about harnessing the power of viral enthusiasm. But it has always been a place where the authentic flourishes and the poseurs are quickly sniffed out. And there is a difference between creating and providing valuable and unique content and activities that people want to share and participate in and advertising. That’s why the advertisements on Facebook are on the side and promoted posts are labeled as “sponsored.”
So why such flurry over some tweets that have long disappeared from the feed? Because many feel those tweets were posing as personal tweets. Had they come directly from Nike, it would have been different. Twitter has given celebrities a direct and open line of communication with their fans. And those fans get pissed when they sense they are being fed undisclosed advertisements. When advertisements try to masquerade as authenticity, it gets messy.
We could argue all day about the fuzzy line between public relations, creating buzz and flat out advertising; especially now that we can communicate and share so quickly via social media. Matt Wilson of the ASA says "People are experimenting and using Twitter to reach consumers, but the same advertising rules apply. It's an ongoing process and this illustrates the care firms must take.” This seems like a tricky one to tackle in the brave new world of social media. Next, there are going to being warnings stamped on newspaper articles that say “Read critically; don’t believe everything you read.”