Disclosing paid-for promotions

12 March, 2012

A marketing campaign by confectionary giant Mars has been cleared1 by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in its first investigation involving social networking site Twitter.


The ASA launched its investigation after receiving complaints regarding a chain of bizarre, economy and knitting-related tweets sent in January from the official accounts of the footballer Rio Ferdinand and model Katie Price followed by a final Snickers tweet and a photograph.

On January 24 the Manchester United defender tweeted “Really getting into the knitting!!! Helps me relax after high-pressure world of the Premiership”.  In further postings, he added “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!!!”

His fifth tweet read “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon”.

In Price’s tweets she wrote about subjects such as the eurozone debt crisis, China’s GDP figures and the economic concept of quantitative easing before finally tweeting a picture of herself holding a Snickers bar with the same message as Ferdinand’s “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon”.

In making its decision, the ASA considered two points: (a) whether it should have been stated in the first four ‘teaser’ tweets that they were marketing communications and (b) whether the hashtag “#spon” in the final ‘reveal’ tweet made it clear enough that the tweet was a marketing communication.

Responding to the complaints, Mars said that it had “considered in detail” the extent to which the tweets were marketing communications and believed only the last one needed to be identified. Mars argued consumers could not have been misled into making a purchase by the first four tweets as their meaning only became apparent once the campaign was revealed with the fifth message.

The ASA accepted Mars’ argument that the tweets contained the hashtag “#spon” to indicate sponsored content but it disagreed with Mars that the first four only became marketing communications after the final tweet was posted and stated that all five tweets should be considered to be part of an “orchestrated advertising campaign”.

However, the ASA said the final tweet was clearly highlighted as an advertising campaign and that having seen the final ‘reveal’ tweet, consumers would understand that the series of tweets were part of a marketing communication. It held that it was acceptable that the first four tweets were not individually labelled as being part of the overall marketing communication and concluded that the ads did not breach the CAP code.

This investigation highlights the importance of disclosing paid-for promotions in all forms of advertising media including blogs, posts and microblogs like Twitter. Whether this is by using hashtags such as #spon, #paid-promotion or #advert or some other statement, in order to avoid breaching advertising legislation, promoters should ensure that consumers understand when they are reading paid-for promotional content regardless of the media through which that content is being displayed.


Reviewed in 2015