In First U.K. Twitter Ruling, Mars' Use of Celebrity Tweets Is OK

Despite Consumer Complaints, ASA Says It Was Clear Enough Messages Were Advertising Snickers

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Mars has escaped censorship by the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, despite complaints from consumers about a series of unlabeled promotional tweets for its Snickers bar.

Katie Price
Katie Price

A campaign for Snickers featured a series of four very out-of -character tweets from celebrities, none of which mentioned Snickers. The unexpected tweets included glamour model Katie Price holding forth on global economics, and professional soccer player Rio Ferdinand discussing knitting techniques.

The fifth and final tweet, accompanied by a picture of the celebrity holding a Snickers bar, was sent out 90 minutes later. It said, "You're not you when you're hungry" followed by "#hungry, #spon" and @snickersuk.

The complaints to the U.K. regulatory body said that the tweets were not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication, but Mars defended its position and described the campaign as an "innovative use of Twitter."

The confectionery giant pointed out that the first four tweets did not mention any advertiser, product or service, so no consumer could have acted as a result of the tweets. The fifth tweets were the only ones that featured the product and were therefore the only marketing communications involved.

The ASA, making its first ruling on a Twitter campaign, disagreed with Mars and considered all five tweets part of an overall marketing communication. It labeled the first four tweets "teasers" intended to generate additional interest in the celebrities' postings.

However, the watchdog group judged that the combination of the elements was sufficient to make it clear that the tweets were advertising, and considered it acceptable that the first four were not individually labeled as being part of the overall marketing communication.

Timothy Pinto, media and intellectual property lawyer at international law firm Taylor Wessing, said, "By not upholding the complaints, the ASA has taken a common-sense, rather than a strict, approach to this Twitter campaign. The adjudication gives useful guidance to advertisers and celebrities on what they need to include in their 140 characters to make it clear that a tweet is a marketing communication. In this case it was the reference to #spon, along with @snickersUK and a photo of the celebrity holding the Snickers bar."

Snickers has just 981 U.K. Twitter followers, despite the publicity surrounding the ruling. Rio Ferdinand has 2.3 million followers, and Katie Price has 1.6 million.

James Kirkham, managing director of Holler, part of the Leo Burnett Group, said, "Loyal followers might start to feel hoodwinked if their favorite Twitter user is regularly tricking them with tweets crafted by the brand or a PR agency. Social media is reliant on transparency and honesty, so audiences will have limited patience when it comes to tweet tricks such as this. Rulings aside, it will be these opinions which matter most to brands and talent."

A marketer didn't get off so lightly this week was Kellogg Co., whose claim that sugar is good has landed it in trouble with the ASA.

On a website for one of its children's cereals, Coco Pops, Kellogg created a section called, "Sugar and health." It said, "Sugar gets a lot of bad press, and we are frequently being told to watch out for sugar, but why?" It went on to claim that experts have concluded that a high sugar intake is not related to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer or behavioral problems in children.

The ASA reviewed the scientific evidence and reviews cited by Kellogg , and concluded that the claim of no link between sugar intake and obesity, diabetes or cancer was misleading. Kellogg has removed the claims from the site.

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