Advertising watchdog suggests #ad hashtag

Advertising regulators in the United Kingdom have suggested that marketers could develop a specific hashtag to indicate that a tweet is a paid promotion.

It came after a complaint that two English soccer players had linked to Nike in promotional tweets as part of their sponsorship deal, but the commercial element wasn’t made clear.

The complaints were investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority, which is an self-regulating organisation run by the advertising industry itself. It’s designed to avoid the need for government control over advertising.

Player Wayne Rooney tweeted:

My resolution – to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion…#makeitcount

Colleague Jack Wilshere’s tweet read:

In 2012, I will come back for my club – and be ready for my country.

The website address linked to a Nike web page promoting its products.

The issue was not whether the players should be allowed to tweet promotional message, even in return for a direct or indirect fee, as there are no restrictions on such behavior. Instead the ASA looked at whether viewers of the messages might be misled into believing they were not of a commercial nature.

Nike argued that in the context of a string of posts by the players, the use of both the “makeitcount” hashtag and the website address containing the Nike name, it was clear that these were promotional messages. It noted that people seeing the tweets would be regular readers of the respective players’ accounts and would thus be better placed to distinguish between their personal and commercial posts.

The ASA said most viewers would see the tweets among a string of messages from multiple users, rather than just a list of tweets from a single person, meaning the contrast would not be so great. It argued that users tend to read tweets quickly and thus could miss the reference to Nike.

It also said the rules do not merely mean marketing communications must be labeled as such, but that the commercial nature of the message must be “obviously identifiable”:

We considered there was nothing obvious in the tweets to indicate they were Nike marketing communications. In the absence of such an indication, for example #ad, we considered the tweets were not obviously identifiable as Nike marketing communications and therefore concluded they breached the Code.

Technically Nike is now required to make sure both tweets are deleted. However, the ASA says it is “relatively relaxed” about the timescale of this happening given they are now buried far back in the players’ timelines.