ASA Ruling on Mars Chocolate UK Ltd
Mars Chocolate UK Ltd
3D Dundee Road
7 March 2012
Internet (social networking)
Food and drink
Number of complaints:
Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd
Summary of Council Decision:
Two issues were investigated and both were Not upheld.
Two series of tweets were posted in January 2012 on Twitter. Both related to Snickers and were posted from the official accounts of Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price:
a. The tweets from Rio Ferdinand stated “Really getting into the knitting!!! Helps me relax after high-pressure world of the Premiership”, “Can’t wait 2 get home from training and finish that cardigan”, “Just popping out 2 get more wool!!!”, “Cardy finished. Now 4 the matching mittens!!!” and “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk#hungry#spon ...”. The final tweet included a picture of Rio Ferdinand holding a Snickers bar.
b. The tweets from Katie Price stated “Great news about China’s latest GDP figures!!”, “Chinese leaders are now likely to loosen monetary policy to stimulate growth. Yay!!”, “OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only properly be solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys”, “Large scale quantitative easing in 2012 could distort liquidity of govt. bond market. #justsayin” and “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon ...”. The final tweet also included a picture of Katie Price holding a Snickers bar.
1. A complainant challenged whether ad (a) was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
2. Another complainant challenged whether ad (b) was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. & 2. Mars Chocolate UK Ltd (Mars) said the campaign involved an innovative use of Twitter and they had considered the requirements of the CAP Code in detail before it was launched. They believed that their approach was fully compliant with the Code and remained of that view.
They said each celebrity had posted five tweets within the space of an hour. The first four, which made no reference to Mars, Snickers or any marketing content, related to topics that were not in keeping with that individual or their usual tweets. They said only the fifth and final tweets contained any marketing content: by showing a photograph of the celebrities with a Snickers bar, by stating “#spon”, which was short for “sponsored”, and by including the strap line “you’re not you when you’re hungry” in the same tweet. They said the campaign strap line tied in with the first four tweets, because their content would not usually be associated with the celebrity tweeters.
Mars said they had considered in detail the extent to which the series of tweets were marketing communications before launching the campaign. They believed that only the fifth and final tweets were marketing communications and that none of the first four tweets therefore needed to be identified as such. They believed it was clear that the Code defined a marketing communication as one which, by whatever means, encouraged consumers to buy specifically identified goods and services from the company responsible for distributing that communication. They said it was difficult to see how the first four of the series of tweets, however, could be seen as marketing communications, because no advertiser, products or services were mentioned. Mars said no consumer could have acted as a result of the first four tweets in either series and they had deliberately avoided referring to the product until the final tweets for that reason. They said it could be misleading or confusing to include a “sponsoredtweet” tag in any of the first four tweets, given the absence of any reference to products or the advertiser; while consumers might understand that the tweets were paid for, they would not know by whom or when that information would be disclosed.
They said the fifth tweets were the only ones that featured the product and were therefore the only marketing communications involved; the obligation to identify them as such arose only once those ‘reveal’ tweets were posted. Mars were satisfied that the photographs of the celebrities with the product, in conjunction with the tweets “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon ...”, made entirely clear that the fifth tweets were marketing communications generated by Snickers. The “#spon” tag was used in conjunction with the text “@snickersUk” and, compared with the tweets usually posted by Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price, highlighted the celebrities’ association with the Snickers brand. They said consumers might then, with the benefit of hindsight, review the first four tweets and understand why the topics were not those usually associated with either celebrity but they would not have been misled into making a purchase, based on a false understanding that the celebrities were endorsing the product, as a result of the first four tweets. Mars believed “#spon” was widely recognised by Twitter users as indicating sponsored content and said they had received advice from an industry body in advance of the campaign, which indicated its acceptability.
Mars said an alternative explanation, which they also considered to be valid, was that the campaign could be regarded as one marketing communication, rather than as five separate tweets, but that the circumstances meant it became a marketing communication only when the final tweets were posted. They said that would be a reasonable interpretation, in particular because the tweets occurred within close proximity to each other, and because in that context the first four of either series of tweets were random statements, again with no marketing content. Mars believed that, if that interpretation was adopted, the tweets became single marketing communications only when the final tweets were posted and therefore the nature of the ‘reveal’ tweets again fulfilled the requirement that marketing communications were obviously identifiable as such.
1. & 2. Not upheld
The ASA noted Mars’s view that only the fifth tweets were marketing communications or, alternatively, that the series of tweets each became marketing communications only once the fifth tweets were posted. We noted, however, that each tweet in the series formed part of an orchestrated advertising campaign, some of which were in turn highlighted on the Snickers Twitter page, and therefore considered those tweets to be part of an overall marketing communication at the point each was posted. We disagreed that the first four tweets became marketing communications only when the fifth tweets were posted.
We noted the first four tweets in each series served as ‘teasers’, which, due to their nature, were likely to generate additional interest in the celebrities’ postings. We also noted those tweets did not make any reference to Snickers or to Mars and were posted in relatively quick succession. In addition, we noted that the fifth ‘reveal’ tweets showed the celebrities with the product and included the text “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon ...”. We considered the combination of those elements was sufficient to make clear the tweets were advertising and that consumers would then understand each series of tweets was a marketing communication. In that particular context, and given the relevance of the first four tweets to the “You’re not you when you’re hungry ...” strap line in the ‘reveal’ tweets, we considered it was acceptable that the first four tweets were not individually labelled as being part of the overall marketing communications. We therefore concluded that the ads did not breach the Code.
We investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.1, 2.3 and 2.4 (Recognition of marketing communications) but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.