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Warning for Social Media Advertisers

Monday, 1 July 2013

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter give businesses a great opportunity to communicate directly with their target market. It can be very efficient, focused and save costs - the Internet Advertising Bureau suggests that 32% of advertising expenditure is now spent on internet marketing.

Tempting as it is to forge right ahead with a social media advertising strategy, it is important to remember that this form of marketing is still subject to regulation; specifically the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) advertising codes.

The CAP Codes Apply to Social Media Too

Since March 2011 the CAP codes affecting conventional advertising such as print and television have been applicable to internet and social media advertising. That means advertising on businesses’ own websites is regulated along with third party mediums that they control such as Twitter and Facebook.

Therefore advertising conducted via social media such as a marketing competition requires fair administration, responsible collection of personal data and clear terms and conditions in the same way that a conventional marketing competition would.

Advertising Content Must be Appropriate

Advertising content, whether generated internally or by user responses, should not be offensive, misleading or harmful.

Given the focused nature of social media adverts, businesses must take measures to ensure their marketing campaigns are directed at an appropriate audience. Furthermore, businesses should also take measures to minimise the risk of appealing to those under age where that is relevant e.g. alcoholic drinks.

Content in any form must adhere to these rules; emoticons promoting age-restricted products, for example, have been criticised for increasing the appeal to an underage audience. Meanwhile, respondents’ status updates on the Facebook page for a brand of whiskey were ruled irresponsible for glorifying excessive drinking of the advertised product.

Businesses should be prepared to demonstrate vigilance on these issues. It is important that marketers are able to provide clear evidence and documentation to support their position that the advertising was not misleading, offensive or harmful to an objective viewer.

Identifiable Advertising

One of the major benefits of social media advertising is the way in which it seamlessly blends with user-generated content which has an unassuming, yet significant effect on consumers. Nevertheless, businesses should approach this with caution.

The CAP code requires that adverts must be identifiable. For example, Wayne Rooney tweeted from his personal Twitter account a reference to a Nike marketing campaign which he was involved in. This was considered to be a breach of the CAP code because it was not obviously identifiable by audiences as an overt marketing campaign.

Businesses relying on celebrity endorsement should be mindful of this; even if a celebrity posts about a campaign by their own volition, this can still violate the rules. The CAP code recommends the use of “#ad’ or ‘#spon’ for Twitter marketing strategies to reduce this risk.


Social media advertising is becoming increasingly important and has many positive effects on business activity. However, businesses should remember that this form of advertising like any other is subject to constraints and procedures which evolve over time.

Businesses should ensure that their advertisement campaigns adhere to the existing codes of practice and seek advice in relation to their obligations as they evolve. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.