The Rooney makeitcount.gonike tweet
20 June 2012
One of the most basic rules in the CAP Code is that “marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such”. But with marketers using ever more innovative techniques, how can they ensure that consumers recognise marketing when they see it?
Consumer perception is key. Let’s start by looking at the issue in traditional advertising formats, before we consider the lessons for new media.
In some media, consumers find it easy to spot advertising. In newspapers and magazines, for example, most readers can instantly tell the difference between articles and ads, and there is no requirement for advertisements to state “this is an advertisement”. Usually, the style of presentation and the content of the ad, taken together, are enough to make clear to readers that they are looking at an advertisement.
But even in traditional media, if there is any risk that consumers might be confused - if a newspaper ad features text in columns, for example, or uses a similar typeface to the newspaper – the marketers and publishers should make special efforts to ensure that readers recognise it as an advertisement. It might be labelled at the top as an “advertisement feature”, for example, or a “promotional offer”. The Code is not prescriptive about the language used, it requires only that consumers recognise the advertisement for what it is.
In some traditional media, advertisements are separated by time or space from non-advertising content. So, for example, TV advertisements are usually separated from programmes by channel idents and cinema advertisements are presented separately from film trailers and the film itself. That specially-separated context is almost always enough to make clear to viewers that they are watching advertisements, and the individual ads don’t need to be labelled.
The ads that were the subject of today’s adjudication were tweets setting out their footballers’ resolutions for 2012. The footballers in question sent personal as well as advertiser-sponsored messages from their Twitter accounts. Nike pointed out that the tweets included the hashtag #makeitcount and the URL gonike.me/makeitcount, and argued both the individuals (Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere) and their clubs (Manchester United and Arsenal) were widely known to be sponsored by Nike. The ASA, however, noted the “Make it Count” campaign had launched around the same time that the tweets were sent, and considered that readers might not recognise “make it count” as a Nike marketing campaign. Even though the ads included links to a Nike website, and some readers might have inferred from that that the primary purpose of the messages was to promote Nike, the ASA considered that it would not be obvious to all readers that the whole tweet was a marketing communication. This is an important lesson: ads must be not just potentially identifiable as advertising but obviously advertising.
What could Nike have done to identify the advertisements more clearly? Beyond clearer references to Nike itself, one option is to use #ad or #spon in the message, as recommended by IAB and ISBA guidelines. As with the print “advertisement features” discussed above, the ASA is not prescriptive about the language used and marketers may be able to identify ads by other means, but following the IAB and ISBA guidelines is one easy way to ensure that ads comply with the Code.
CAP has recently published guidance on advergames, which covers recognition and other issues. Marketers need to take particular care if their marketing communications might be mistaken for non-commercial content: so advergames that appear in amongst non-commercial games on sites like Mousebreaker might need to be identified explicitly whereas the same game on the advertiser’s own site would not need explicit identification.
Some media owners are developing their own methods of identifying the advertising they carry: so, for example, ads on Virgin’s electronic programme guide are identified by a yellow circle with an “A” in the middle, and ads on Microsoft’s X-box platform are labelled “ADVERTISEMENT”. Whether a symbol, such as Virgin’s yellow circle, is enough to make clear that the content is an ad depends on whether the users of the service understand what the symbol stands for, so marketers and media owners may need to take steps to inform audiences about symbols they are using. Once a symbol is well-established in consumers’ minds, it can offer a simple and effective way to identify advertising.
For all ad formats, established or innovative, the key questions for marketers to consider are:
• Will the audience quickly recognise the content as an advertisement because of the context (for example, because it appears on the advertiser’s own website)?
• Can the audience easily distinguish advertising from editorial content in the medium (for example, because they recognise differences in style)?
• Are advertisements presented in a separate space that audiences expect to contain advertising (for example in breaks in TV programmes or in a section headed “sponsored links” on a website)?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, marketers should consider taking special steps to ensure the audience is in no doubt that the content is an advertisement.