Showing my age here, but a decade or so ago when I first started mucking around with my websites and would use affiliate schemes to monetize them it always intrigued me how the industry was regulated, or not.
For instance back then blogs were the hip thing, so people would write reviews of products, stick an affiliate link in there and hopefully sit back and count the money. If you tried that in the print world you'd get into trouble as publishers have to declare that the copy is in effect an advertorial.
Anyway, fast forward a few years and we have a similar thing on Twitter at the moment. A number of British celebrities have been promoting the Snickers chocolate bar on Twitter recently. The general theme of the campaign is that people don't act like themselves until they've had their Snickers fix, so the celebs would tweet a few unusual messages, followed by a final tweet with a photo of them eating a Snickers and revealing the cause of their peculiar behaviour. The only thing that marked these out as an advert was the inclusion of the #spon hashtag.
After the campaigns received lots of complaints, the Advertising Standards Agency investigated, but ruled earlier this year that the campaign broke no rules and that with the inclusion of #spon it was clear the tweets were sponsored.
The ASA judgment said:
"We noted the first four tweets in each series served as 'teasers', which, due to their nature, were likely to generate additional interest in the celebrities' postings.
"We also noted those tweets did not make any reference to Snickers or to Mars and were posted in relatively quick succession. In addition, we noted that the fifth 'reveal' tweets showed the celebrities with the product and included the text, 'You're not you when you're hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon …'.
"We considered the combination of those elements was sufficient to make clear the tweets were advertising."
So it seems that such behaviour is legal, but is it effective? No doubt it generated lots of publicity for both the celebrities and for Snickers, but research suggests it did very little to generate income for the company. It analysed mentions of Snickers on Twitter before, during and after the campaign and found that the campaign actually put people off of talking about the bars.
And it's hardly surprising is it? I mean Twitter is renowned as the place where people are, if nothing else, completely honest. It's bad enough that Obama declared that he'd never used Twitter, despite amassing a huge following on the site having made thousands of apparent tweets, but this takes things a step further as it makes us distrust not only who it is doing the tweeting but also that whoever it is believes what it is they're writing.
No doubt Twitter can be used to promote your wares, but if this campaign teaches us anything it's that authenticity is king.