Nothing lasts forever…except for T-Mobile top ups

The ASA has been a little quite in tech matters lately, after a busy period of rulings on Twitter led campaigns earlier in the year. But recent complaints regarding T-Mobile’s mobile top up advertising has meant the regulator has waded in and redefined the word ‘forever’.

According to PC Pro, a ruling on the slogan “unlimited free texts forever” has changed the meaning of forever to “not literally forever”.  The line is used by T-Mobile to advertise a PAYG top up offer; when a user tops up £10 a month or more they get free unlimited texts.

In response to two complaints brought to light through the ASA, T-Mobile stated the company has “no business plan to remove the offer from customers who had joined during the offer period and who continued to top up by at least £10 a month”. Of course, this doesn’t mean the text offer will literally last forever. Even if T-Mobile is committed to keeping the deal going, you have to imagine it won’t keep going indefinitely. Sadly these kinds of ‘unless of course’ T&Cs aren’t the close friends of those clever advertisers getting paid to write catchy slogans.

But the ASA is cool with it, putting a little more faith in the average consumer than the two complainants did. The regulator stated “We considered consumers were likely to interpret the claim as containing an element of advertising puffery and were unlikely to infer that texts would be available literally forever”. A common sense ruling, even if they did have to get a little dig in at the advertisers. Ouch.

Commercial disclosure

The Guardian is asking a very important question (in social media terms, at least) today: Is it ethical to pay bloggers to tweet? Sunny Hundal and Helen Lewis have taken opposing positions (Hundal for, Lewis against). The Guardian’s question relates to Sky News’s payments to bloggers in exchange for said bloggers tweeting about its Murnaghan Sunday morning political discussion show.  Applied more broadly, the question is a good one. So, is it ethical to pay bloggers to tweet?

Fortunately, this question ties in nicely with a discussion we’ve been having on CommsTalk about the ASA’s recent rulings about Twitter promotions. The central point, whether it’s about promoting trainers, chocolate bars, hair cuts or TV shows, is that undisclosed commercial promotions can be at best misleading and, in some instances, damage trust. When they do damage trust, they do so not just in the celebrities and commentators, but also in Twitter itself.

One of the best things about Twitter is its authenticity. Tweets have a sense of direct communication. They connect us with others – friends, businesses, celebrities, causes, etc. – in a very direct way. The conversation is instant and there’s a sense that it’s open and honest. It would be a pity if distrust started to seep in, in the way it has with other media. All the UK’s national newspapers are seen to favour one agenda or another. The BBC, generally respected for its quality and its balance, is shot at from all sides of the political spectrum for supporting “the other side”.

Of course, Twitter doesn’t create the content of tweets, so it’s less likely to succumb to the charge of bias. However, if people begin to become wary of tweets, fearing some alternative agenda and speculating at the commercial motives behind the tweets, then Twitter will become a less nice and less trusting place. It would be a pity if that were to happen simply because of a lack of commercial disclosure.


ASA and the “common sense approach”: a rebuttal

My previous posts on ASA rulings have started a bit of debate from my learned colleague Karan. I believe this is what you call a gentleman’s disagreement. So, to continue:

To the argument “it needs to be abundantly clear that you’re being paid to promote a product” on Twitter, I say posts containing branded URLs or discounts for haircuts already fulfil this criteria.

Labelling every single marketing-focused tweet with #ad would be like scrawling “this is an advert, make sure you want to buy this product before you buy it” across every billboard, poster, side of a bus, leaflet, flyer and printed ad in existence. Do we need to be reminded an image of Wayne Rooney looking stern and wearing a Nike shirt is an advert for the Nike shirt?

If you were to liken this practice to established rules and regulation, consider the imitation feature articles in national papers that have ‘Advertorial’ printed across the top of a page. This has always seemed strange to me. If you can’t fathom an 800 word feature article on a trouser press is an advertisement, how on earth did you make it to the shops to buy a paper without tripping over your idiocy. These advertorial labels must exist to safeguard papers against being sued by anyone who brought a trouser press under the impression the ‘bedroom dressing and equipment correspondent’ had recommended it to them. Every major or B-list celeb does not need the same safeguard.

The question on social media’s “constantly evolving” state doesn’t hold much mustard either. In such an evolving state consistency becomes more important, not less. Why bother to legislate at all if you’re simply look at the situation afresh each time. In any case, as quickly as social media does evolve, Twitter didn’t change that much between the Snickers and Nike rulings.

This is not ranting at the ASA for no reason. Just this morning, for example, a very sensible and consistent judgement was reported. Where the ASA had previously ruled on T-Mobile’s use of the term “truly unlimited” (against, by the way), they’d also stumbled into defining which services can be called “truly unlimited”. So when Virgin Media compiled Sky’s use of “totally unlimited downloads” was misleading, Sky simply pointed to the T-Mobile ruling and low and behold the ASA confirms they’re in the right.

Proof the ASA can be consistent. Now if they could just inch that thinking over to Twitter we’d all be set.


The ASA is your sensible friend

Snickers beat the rap, Nike were busted but are appealing and then TOWIE star Gemma Collins got a ticking off for getting her hair done. All ran forms of advertising on Twitter and every time it happened there was a bit of a Twitter brouhaha and some ranting at the ASA (including some particularly lucid points from CommsTalk’s own @simonhill).

The thrust of most arguments is that there needs to be a “common sense approach” and, in the ASA’s defence, I’d say there is one: it needs to be abundantly clear that you’re being paid to promote a product.

Twitter now has 10 million users in the UK, that’s roughly one in six of the total population, so Twitter is no longer a little bubble full of media and tech types, all eagerly enforcing accepted norms, cynically flushing out ne’er-do-wells on the net to vent their opprobrium. As more and more of the population sign up, the less we can assume that everyone’s able to tell what’s a paid-for promotion and what’s not. Beyond the hardcore mega users who tweet compulsively, there are an increasing number who simply listen or who tweet in an ad hoc manner. Twitter is something they dip in and out of. These users may only pick up snapshots and not necessarily entire conversations. Do they need to be safeguarded? No. Is it reasonable to expect ads to explicitly flagged so there’s no confusion>? Emphatically, yes.

The other argument usually thrust forward focuses on consistency. Well, of course there’ll be some inconsistency. Social networks are new and constantly evolving. Marketers are constantly thinking of new ways to exploit them. It’s unreasonable to expect regulators to draw a clear line and stick to it when the playing field is shifting. Change throws up inconsistencies. The ASA should be applauded for attempting to grasp the issues and protect consumers.


ASA Guidelines are making me sympathetic to TOWIE stars…#PleaseStop

Everyone’s favourite advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority, or ASA, is firmly stamping down on ‘unacceptable’ uses of Twitter an advertising platform. Tepid on the heels of a ban on Nike’s Make it Count campaign for failing to use the #ad hashtag in shoe-related tweets, the ASA has come down hard on those ‘actors’ from The Only Way is Essex, or TOWIE if you like.

Love it or physically want to beat yourself unconscious rather than endure one second of it, TOWIE is pretty popular. Said popularity has led to the ASA looking very closely at the tweets of a certain Gemma Collins.

Miss Collins has recently had her hair cut at hairdresser chain Toni & Guy. In two tweets deemed ‘marketing communications’, she enthused about how great her hair looked after a visit, followed by the below offering a 10% discount off a cut for anyone coming to the Lakeside shopping centre and mentioning her name. Truly a case of ‘not what you know…’.

TOWIE tweet Toni & Guy

As in Nike’s case, this is another questionable decision by the ASA. The very fact the tweet contains the mention of a ‘10% discount’ makes it pretty darn clear this is a marketing related statement. As one needs to mention Miss Collins’ name to get an equally ‘amazeballs’ haircut is also a clear indication this is marketing related. Do we really need a #ad in there as well? That would be three indicators of an ad in 140 – on top of the fact she’s a goddamn reality TV star.

If Collins was to include a #ad or similar, it’s likely this would cause, rather than clear up, confusion regarding the nature of the tweet. I’m hedging a guess the majority of her follows could deduce the promotional nature of the above tweet, but how many of them will instantly link #ad with advertising? It seems more likely they’d assume it’s to do with the programme in some way, or encouraging people to ‘add’ (follow) Toni & Guy. It’s not clear cut anyway (and just to avoid any confusion, that last sentence should be followed by #PunIntended).

Poor Toni & Guy has been somewhat singled out here as an example of the ASA’s increasingly zero tolerance stance. According to a source, Collins made the appointment herself and the tweet idea was a “spur of the moment” one. They also believed “the reference to a discount was clear evidence they were marketing communications”, according to The Guardian.

You can see their point.

Compare it to other TOWIE stars, for example Lauren Pope, and the picture gets more murky than the water in a fake tan soiled shower basin. Pope openly asked Virgin Airways on Twitter for free flights in exchange for “some twitter shout outs and PR”, says the Mail. Now, when one is blatantly presenting oneself in such a fashion, do we really need constant reminders of their habit of exchanging cash for product endorsements?

The ASA rulings need a bit of work on consistency, and consideration for users’ common sense, before being fully effective.