Do 'Sponsored Tweets' breach Advertising Standards or are they obvious ads?

Mars Chocolate UK's marketing campaign has been cleared by the Advertising Standards Agency for using sponsored tweets to raise awareness of its Snickers brand.
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Mars Chocolate UK's marketing campaign has been cleared by the Advertising Standards Agency for using sponsored tweets to raise awareness of its Snickers brand.

Mars hired the footballer Rio Ferdinand and celebrity Katie Price to tweet on topics related to Snickers bars. The tweets went out in January 2012 to coincide with the UK campaign 'You're not you when you're hungry'.

Rio Ferdinand tweeted:

“Really getting into the knitting!!! Helps me relax after high-pressure world of the Premiership”

“Can’t wait 2 get home from training and finish that cardigan”, “Just popping out 2 get more wool!!!”

“Cardy finished. Now 4 the matching mittens!!!” and

“You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk#hungry#spon ...”.

The final tweet included a picture of Rio Ferdinand holding a Snickers bar. Only on the 5th tweet was there any indication that the tweets were sponsored tweets.

Katie Price tweeted:

“Great news about China’s latest GDP figures!!”

“Chinese leaders are now likely to loosen monetary policy to stimulate growth. Yay!!”

“OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only properly be solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys”

“Large scale quantitative easing in 2012 could distort liquidity of govt. bond market. #justsayin” and

“You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon ...”.

Price followed the same format as Ferdinand, only mentioning the brand in the last tweet.

Two people complained that the five tweets formed part of an 'obviously identifiable' marketing communication.

Mars argued that the first four tweets were not marketing communications, but only became marketing communications once the final tweet was posted. The first four tweets were 'teasers' as part of an orchestrated marketing campaign.  The tweets were not in keeping with each celebrity's usual style or content and were posted within the space of an hour.

Better judgement

As more and more brands hire celebrities to talk about their products, we are likely to see more tweets either subliminally or blatantly advertising a product. I don't mean tweets from spam bots that spring into action if you mention iPad, Apple, laptop or any other term you care to choose on Twitter.

I mean tweets from real people. Celebrities, sports stars, actors, influencers.

Are you more likely to buy a Snickers bar because someone like Katie Price mentions it on Twitter?  Do you credit yourself with the judgement and experience that it is only a marketing campaign, propagated through another channel?

This is the first adjudication relating to sponsored tweets that the ASA has dealt with. I'm surprised that there was a complaint at all.

Celebrities need to earn a living, and being paid to tweet is an easy way to earn some extra cash.  They hopefully credit their followers with the intelligence to recognise a marketing tweet. We might see the tweet and will be able to deal with it appropriately.

Or do we expect advertising to be so obvious that it is immediately apparent to everyone that THIS IS AN AD.

Perhaps we should ignore the messages we do not want to action. Do we need our hands holding so that we know that an 'out of character' tweet just might be an ad?

Or perhaps we could use our common sense and judge for ourselves.

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