U.K. to Tighten Regulations for Paid Tweets, Sponsored Posts

Move Matches Online Ad Disclosure Policy for Twitter, Bloggers in U.S.

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- The U.K.'s consumer watchdog agency is clamping down on endorsements by bloggers and social networkers, who will now be required to state any relationship they have with a product.

The move brings U.K. Twitter regulations in line with those in the U.S., where the Federal Trade Commission requires that Twitter endorsements include the words "ad" or "spon" (for "sponsored") to flag their status.

The U.K.'s Office of Fair Trading has ruled that Handpicked Media, a company that represents the commercial interests of bloggers from the world of fashion, beauty, culture, food and lifestyle, has been operating in breach of the Consumer Protection Regulations.

Handpicked Media was investigated last year after the OFT said it was concerned that "individuals engaged by Handpicked Media were publishing online content which promoted the activities of Handpicked Media's clients, without sufficient disclosures in place to make it clearly identifiable to consumers that the promotions had been paid for."

Heather Clayton, senior director of OFT's consumer group, in a statement said, "The importance of online advertising continues to grow. We expect online advertising and marketing campaigns to be transparent so consumers can clearly tell when blogs, posts and microblogs have been published in return for payment or payment in kind."

The OFT does not give specific details of the case or cases investigated.

Up until now, celebrities have so far been tweeting freely in the U.K. about products they are being paid to endorse. Elizabeth Hurley, who has worked with Estee Lauder for 17 years, regularly mentions the company's products in her tweets but without declaring her relationship with the company.

This week Ms. Hurley defended her position by tweeting, "It's hardly a secret that I work for Estee Lauder. Love telling u about their products -- they're the best xx."

Celebrities can be paid a lot of money for tweeting about a product. According to U.S. company Ad.ly, which matches celebrities with brands, celebs such as Kim Kardashian and Snoop Dogg can make $5,000 or more for a single tweet. Ad.ly is rumored to be expanding to the U.K. this year.

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