ASAI extends its digital remit to include brands’ social media profiles and updates

19 Nov 2012

Ireland’s ads and marketing watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI), has extended its remit to include social media profiles of major brands. The upshot is consumers can now make complaints about false product claims or offensive updates by major brands that appear in their social news feeds.

In June, the ASAI said it would begin investigating the use of social media by brands to engage with consumers. In particular, it planned to investigate the efforts of firms that may be going beyond the remit of the advertising self-regulatory code in their use of social media.

This morning, the ASAI revealed that it has decided to extend its current digital remit to include marketing communications on advertisers’ profile pages on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks, as well as other non-paid-for space which are under advertisers’ control.

The move comes at an interesting time. Anyone familiar with the social media efforts of brands is aware that as well as core messages, many of these brands try to engage for the simple purpose of engaging and keeping their brands fresh in consumers’ minds.

Are brands in danger of opening a Pandora’s Box of issues?

But a virtual Pandora’s Box could be opened as these efforts could include jokes or images aimed at getting an audience reaction that could intentionally or non-intentionally cause offense or could include false or exaggerated product claims or which libel competitors or customers.

In other words, brands will need to make sure someone responsible is in charge of their brand’s engagement rather than some trigger-happy exec that makes a poorly thought-out status update that causes outrage or upset.

The extension to the remit will be active from 2 January. There will be a three-month grace period in which the ASAI will investigate complaints without referring them to the independent Complaints Committee for formal adjudication.

The assistant chief executive of the ASAI Orla Twomey told that the move is really about future-proofing the rules for this new paradigm in marketing.

“It’s still early days and we haven’t seen a huge number of complaints from the public. This is really about addressing the online space that is under the control of advertisers.

“From the point of view of consumers, if they have complaints, it’s about making sure they have somewhere to make complaints.

“Not everything put online by a brand is a marketing communication. We’re not seeking to control all of their social media communications. But if people are making product claims, for example, that are not true, we would apply the same standards as we would in the world of offline media.”

Twomey pointed out that social media provides brands with the power at the touch of a button to communicate with hundreds, if not thousands, of customers who may have ‘liked’ their pages on Facebook or decided to ‘follow’ them on Twitter.

“Seven years ago none of this mattered. But now and looking ahead at the next several years, marketing communications to consumers via this medium is very direct and can have an impact that brands will need to be very careful about.

“There is always a balance. Our code has always expected brands and clients of marketing communications firms to take account of where their advertising communications appear, the audience and the targeting that has been used.

Twomey said that because of the explosion of digital media and the temptation to ‘trend’, some marketing communications types may pursue edgier ways of communicating just to get attention for the brand.

“They need to ask, ‘is this going out to the core audience, is what they are saying acceptable?’ There are issues that will have to be given consideration,” Twomey said.

Social network image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years