How to #Makeitcount (but avoid an own goal)

Published 07 January 2013 By: Laura Scaife

How to #Makeitcount (but avoid an own goal)

Players as well as clubs need to appreciate the marketing power that they yield through being a respected Twitter user. However, there are risks associated with 'covertly' endorsing products in return for payment (or payment in kind). In December 2010, the Office of Fair Trading released a publication stating its view that:

"Online advertising and marketing practices that do not disclose they include paid-for
promotions are deceptive under fair trading laws. This includes comments about services and
products on website blogs and microblogs such as Twitter"

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They further stated that online promotional activity, just like any other promotional activity, must clearly identify when promotions and editorial comment have been paid for, so that consumers are not misled. An example of such promotional activity centered round Wayne Rooney and his so-called "Twitter advert". The Rooney tweet read: 'My resolution – to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion... #makeitcount (a link to a film and promotion campaign for Nike)'.

The ASA took the stance that while they "understood that, as part of their sponsorship deal with Nike, the footballers were required to take part in marketing activities and that both were asked to submit their own ideas as to what to write as part of their tweet". However the problem was that the tweet's final content was agreed with the help of a member of the Nike marketing team. The watchdog banned any repeat of the tweets in their current form and put Nike on notice that it must ensure any advertising on Twitter is clearly identified by the addition of for example #ad.

Although in the above example, Nike was required only to ensure that the tweets no longer appeared in its present form, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has a range of other sanctions which it can employ against persistent offenders. Players need to know that any endorsing tweets may give rise to a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, and should also be informed if and when the advertising regulations change to require specific wording within promotional tweets. Those who fail to adhere to the rules may find themselves subject to ad alerts advising committee of advertising practice members to withhold services such as access to advertising space, and pre-vetting which could require organisations to seek ASA prior approval before publication. The ASA may also refer persistent offenders to the Office of Fair Trading which could result in the instigation of legal proceedings under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 or the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008. The detrimental impact on the clubs strategy as a result of such a ban or suspension is clearly considerable and activity needs to be clearly monitored. It is therefore important that marketing teams familiarise themselves with the rules and ensure that social media online communications comply with the Code.

While such tags to tweets may avoid falling foul of the ASA, clubs and players need to consider the damage to goodwill with fans. The real opportunity Twitter presents famous people with an opportunity to be on Twitter as themselves and tweet messages which honestly represent something they think or are doing. If fans feel that they are being "used" this can cause irreparable damage to the relationship of trust as well as reputational damage to their clubs brand. A key example of this is demonstrated by Rio Ferdinand (along with Cher Lloyd, Katie Price and Amir Khan) and his Snickers Tweets.

Ferdinand posted a series of Tweets which included the statement "You're not you when you're hungry @snickersUk#hungry#spon" and a photograph of himself holding a Snickers chocolate bar.

While the ASA held that consumers would have understood the series of tweets to amount to marketing communications as the “#spon” tag used in conjunction with the text “@snickersUk” (which mirror the guidelines adopted in America by the US Federal Trade Commission). However several of Ferdinand's followers complained after his burst of tweets. One user tweeted: "Do you really need the money that badly?" and another added: "I'm not on here to be advertised at". Educating players as to the use of social media is paramount. However, by getting players to think about the consequences of their tweets in terms of the legal and reputational issues identified above, they will hopefully become more generally aware that using Twitter brings with it certain responsibilities.


Laura Scaife

Laura Scaife

Laura is an innovative thinker in the field of Social Media and has been extensively published on matters concerning compliance with e-commerce issues arising out of the Office of Fair Trading and Advertising Standard Agency guidelines as well as online revenue generation, defamation, electronic communications based offences, effective dispute settlement, business crisis management and reputational management.

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