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A black (twitter) cloud over advertising?

Posted on 19/01/2011 by Emma Dadswell

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As social media continues to shape and influence how we communicate, so too does it change the way in which products are advertised and promoted. It may not be as simple as the obvious TV and brand sponsorship partnerships we so often see, but social media is increasingly being used to advertise and create brand awareness.

This is all the more poignant with the recent news that a UK-based PR agency has had a case brought against them by the Office of Fair trading (OFT). They were discovered to be paying people to write about certain products.  The OFT concluded that they felt the marketing and online advertising , in the form of comments about services and products in blogs and on twitter, was deceptive.

What the OFT want to see is that when bloggers and Twitter users endorse a product they must state a relationship with the brand.  In the UK, one example (across Twitter) is Liz Hurley. Whilst she has been the face of Estee Lauder for 17 years her Twitter page has no mention of her association. But recently she has started to talk about certain products within the range that she particularly likes.  Coincidence or not???

In the States, although this practise goes on, individuals must state the word ‘ad’ or ‘spon’ to show that they are being paid to endorse products.  Snoop Dogg, for example, has over 2.4million followers and earns a reputed £1,900 for posting a tweet to advertise a product.  Nice work if you can get it!

So why do it?  Well simple really - celebrities are great influencers and promoters of products to fans who like to follow their idols and live like them, maybe even begin using similar products.  Such is the trend, in America, there is a company called Ad.ly – dedicated to intelligently ‘matching’ over 5,000 stars to the portfolio of 150 brands products across Twitter, Facebook and display ads.

For many celebrities, how many followers they have may determine their ‘advertising status’ and what they can net for each tweet or endorsement.  It’s all another form of income, and if it takes of here like it has in the States, we may see the big brands using celebrities in the same way to promote their product. That’s not to say that us ‘ordinary folk’ should not take not of the ruling – anyone endorsing a product must say so! However, it’s clearly going to be a hard one for the OFT to police as social media is so far-reaching, fast and instant. 

The message here for everyone wishing to promote a brand using social media is a simple one. You must be clear as to whether you have a vested interest, and if other people are publicising you, so must they.  This is a particularly relevant issue within the media and entertainment industry, where products and services are regularly promoted via social media channels. What’s your view? Let us know!

And in the meantime, happy (fair) tweeting!