Staggered Sponsored Tweet Campaigns Ruled OK

A controversial Twitter marketing campaign that used celebrities, not Promoted Tweets, to advertise chocolate did not cross a line, the UK’s advertising watchdog has ruled.

In January, model Katie Price, cricketer Ian Botham, boxer Amir Khan, singer Cher Lloyd and soccer play Rio Ferdinand tweeted a series of five sponsored messages and photographs of them eating Mars’ Snickers bar. Only the fifth tweet in the series disclosed the nature of the tweets using the “#spon” tag.

Two people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that, in the case of the Ferdinand and Price tweets, the series as a whole was not clearly labeled as marketing. In each case, the first four tweets were deliberately out of character before, in the end, eating a Snickers restored the celebrities’ mojo.

Mars testified to the ASA that “it was difficult to see how the first four of the series of tweets could be seen as marketing communications, because no advertiser, products or services were mentioned”. It said both that the fifth tweet was clearly labeled and that users would clearly regard the series as a whole as marketing.

The ASA, in its adjudication, said “we disagreed that the first four tweets became marketing communications only when the fifth tweets were posted”. But it agreed with Mars that, taken as a whole, the series of tweets was labeled clearly enough.

It is an unusually liberal stance from the normally hard-line ASA, and effectively says that some sponsored tweets don’t need to be labeled as such.

The campaign is also interesting because the agency behind it, Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO, chose to use ordinary tweets, and not Twitter’s new and preferred marketing vehicle, Promoted Tweets.

One has to wonder how much rich sport stars like Ferdinand need the extra income from what was essentially an experimental campaign.