Mission to Mars: Snickers Wins Twitter Victory

Morning, luv.

Today’s post is brought to you by some news from across the pond, so please feel free to read it with a spot of tea.

And a British accent.

(Doesn’t it make everyone sound just a wee bit nicer?)

Anywho, in another sign of our tweet-filled times, Mars, the maker of Snickers, just avoided getting into hot water with the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over a marketing campaign it launched on Twitter back in January. The campaign, featuring British stars such as model Katie Price and footballer (or, as us Yankees would say, professional soccer player) Rio Ferdinand, used a series of curious tweets from the celebs to play up the Snickers tagline “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

Photo by Phil Guest. Some rights reserved.

For example, Katie Price, who apparently rose to fame after appearing as a topless model in a British tabloid, sent out a bunch of tweets on international finance to her 1.6 million followers. (Get it? Models don’t usually talk about big complicated things like economics, silly.):

“OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only properly be solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ferdinand took to the Twitterverse to discuss his newfound love of knitting with his 2.3 million followers, which of course goes against his manly manly-man persona:

“Can’t wait 2 get home from training and finish that cardigan”

The campaign ran into problems, however, when folks began to complain about a lack of transparency with the tweets. Just like U.S. regulations, U.K. industry standards indicate that sponsored tweets—like the ones sent by Price and Ferdinand—need to disclose in some way that they’re ads. This is often achieved by including hashtags like #ad or #spon. In the case of Snickers, while the celebs sent out a series of five tweets within a short period of time (about 90 minutes), only the last tweet—which was accompanied by a photo of each star with a Snickers bar—indicated that it was part of a campaign:

“You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk#hungry #spon…”

Photo by Tim Ellis. Some rights reserved.

Now, in its first Twitter-based ruling, the ASA has decided in favor of Mars, although it disagreed (rightly) with the company’s reasoning that the first four tweets were not marketing communications because they did not include any actual mention of the product.

Instead, the ASA declared that the earlier rounds of tweets were teasers that helped make up an “orchestrated advertising campaign.” But, since they appeared in quick succession, with the final tweet labeled appropriately, the organization found that consumers would be able to recognize that the tweets were, in fact, ads.

This ruling will likely help pave the way for future innovative campaigns in the social media sphere—a realm where, once again, the law is struggling to keep up with the lightning-fast pace of technology. I think it speaks volumes that the ASA was willing to view this issue with an open mind and avoid sticking to cut-and-dried regulations that will inevitably have to evolve with the times.

Of course, these situations aren’t without their hang-ups, as James Kirkham, managing director of Holler, a digital content and social media agency, noted in a piece in AdAge:

“Loyal followers might start to feel hoodwinked if their favorite Twitter user is regularly tricking them with tweets crafted by the brand or a PR agency,” he said. “Social media is reliant on transparency and honesty, so audiences will have limited patience when it comes to tweet tricks such as this.”

This is certainly a very real concern that brands cannot overlook as they trample over one another to blaze new trails in online media. But this ruling does give them some breathing room to continue blazing those trails, which is essential as companies face the ever-present challenge of changing business models in the digital era.

Meanwhile, this situation is also a reminder that in a world where consumers are increasingly open when it comes to their own lives online (as anyone who has had to read in-depth status updates on potty training and stomach viruses will tell you), those same people will expect their brands to be just as upfront about their practices, as well.

Innovation is one thing—deception is another.

For brands that discover how to strike this delicate balance—and do so with panache—the marketing possibilities are endless.