The ASAI has announced that it has extended its current digital remit to include marketing communications on advertisers’ profile pages and other non-paid-for space online, under advertisers’ control. The extension of remit will be effective from 2nd January 2013. However there will be a three month grace period when the ASAI will investigate complaints but will not refer them to the independent Complaints Committee for formal adjudication.

One of the interesting aspects of the briefing document the ASAI has made available is how it will affect celebrity endorsements and reviews by consumers on social media. Specifically the briefing document states:

UGC content created by individuals would not generally be considered to be a marketing communication. For example, user posts on their own social media pages or on advertisers’ pages which are not subsequently adopted and incorporated by advertisers on the advertisers’ page. Other examples are blogs and reviews written by private individuals. If the reviewer/ blogger has not been paid or otherwise induced to write a review, then this material would not be considered marketing communications. If, however, a company has influenced the review either through direct payment or, for example, through the provision of free products, it is possible that the material would be considered a marketing communication. This is in line with the code requirement which states “an advertisement feature, announcement or promotion published or electronically broadcast in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement where the content is controlled by the advertiser should comply with the Code. It should also be clearly identified and distinguished from editorial matter.” (Section 2.58). In addition, the Code requires that “A marketing communication should be designed and presented in such a way that it is clear that it is a marketing communication.” (Section 2.57). Advertisers should ensure that if they have paid or offered an inducement (and influenced the content of a post, blog, review, tweet, etc,) that it is clear that they have done so, as if it is not clear, they could be found to be in breach of the Code.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. For starters, it implies that any promotional content published by celebrities will need to clearly indicate that endorsement is involved. Similarly agency staff that use their personal accounts would need to highlight that they are publishing content on behalf of a client.  Therefore agency staff would appear to need to include copy like “(client)” somewhere in the content.  This is already best practice, so shouldn’t be much of a change.  Celebrities however would also have to include similar copy like “(sponsored)” to make it clear to the reader.  This is already the case in the UK.

Where it gets more complicated is how it applies to blog posts or tweets where the publisher has received an inducement (i.e. a trip or freebie.)  The “advertiser” needs to ensure that the publisher makes this clear in whatever they publish.  It could technically mean that a music reviews website has to indicate that it received a free ticket or CD to conduct the review.  This would result in a level of transparency that isn’t required from traditional media.  I doubt that it will require this level of compliancy in practice, but it will be interesting to watch if any complaints are received during the grace period and how the ASAI responds.

On first impressions the ASAI looks like it is adopting a common sense approach and the guidelines are to be welcomed.


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Piaras Kelly
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