If you are an athlete, actor, musician, etc. - just how far do you have to go to make it clear to your social media followers that a communication is serving as a sponsored advertisement?
That's the issue at the heart of a decision concerning England soccer star Wayne Rooney and Nike. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) struck down Nike's "Make it count" Twitter campaign after a tweet from Rooney and another soccer player failed to meet the guidelines for transparent ad practices.
Below is the tweet in question. Rooney sent this out to over 4 million followers on January 1st. As you can see, the tweet includes an inspirational message along with the hashtag #makeitcount. The link takes you to a Nike product website.
Fellow player Jack Wilshere posted a similar tweet near the same time that read,
"In 2012, I will come back for my club — and be ready for my country. #makeitcount.gonike.me/Makeitcount"
Wilshere has since deactivated his account.
These tweets ran afoul of the ASA, whose job it is is to "keep UK ads legal, honest, and truthful," according to their statement. They ruled that the tweets didn't properly reference Nike and that Rooney and Wilshere's followers could clearly mistake the tweet for one that wasn't sponsored. Nike argued that the Nike url was enough and that people clearly associated Rooney with Nike anyways.
"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," said the ASA. They added that the rules specify that "marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such."
Or, as the Committee of Advertising Practice (code writers for the independent ASA) explains it:
The ads that were the subject of today’s adjudication were tweets setting out their footballers’ resolutions for 2012. The footballers in question sent personal as well as advertiser-sponsored messages from their Twitter accounts. Nike pointed out that the tweets included the hashtag #makeitcount and the URL gonike.me/makeitcount, and argued both the individuals (Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere) and their clubs (Manchester United and Arsenal) were widely known to be sponsored by Nike.
The ASA, however, noted the “Make it Count” campaign had launched around the same time that the tweets were sent, and considered that readers might not recognise “make it count” as a Nike marketing campaign. Even though the ads included links to a Nike website, and some readers might have inferred from that that the primary purpose of the messages was to promote Nike, the ASA considered that it would not be obvious to all readers that the whole tweet was a marketing communication. This is an important lesson: ads must be not just potentially identifiable as advertising but obviously advertising.
They suggest that in the future, tweets could include #spon or #ad hashtags to make them obvious.
Of course, social media advertising is a different animal than traditional media advertising and the lines are a bit blurrier. It seems that the thing that makes a Twitter or Facebook campaign so effective - how ads morph into the flow of everyday communications - is exactly why the ASA came down on Nike.