Ad watchdog confirms precedent set with Facebook rulings

By Duncan Craig | 7 August 2012

The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has officially confirmed that social media brand managers are responsible for any content that is posted on an advertiser's online brand or community page.

The ASB has invoked concern in the social marketing industry with two rulings, involving content posted on Diageo's Smirnoff and Fosters' VB Facebook pages.

The VB ruling was upheld by the ASB as it involved offensive sexist, homophobic and obscene content, while the Smirnoff case, decided on a couple of weeks ago, was dismissed.

The ASB ruling said the industry ethics code did apply to content generated by advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends.

In response to questions from AdNews, the ASB has confirmed "that Facebook pages used by advertisers to promote their products are deemed a marketing communication and therefore come under the AANA Code of Ethics”.

The ASB also appears to have conceded that advertisers need to be more careful about managing content on their own brand pages, though it was not prepared to issue any specific guidelines.

“This is a consideration for advertisers themselves,” ASB acting CEO Brian Gordon said. “There has been some commentary about social media responsibility and about ensuring they are across all risks to their brand reputation.”

The ASB would not comment further, but the industry is confused as to how they should manage their online communities.

A number of managers in the social marketing industry said the VB ruling has sent a shudder through the branded social content space, and it could be a minefield for advertisers. Brand managers would now have to examine the full suite of pre-moderation tools available in the market.

“It's going to put a huge amount of pressure on social community managers and it will make for a more restrictive regime for advertisers,” said an agency social media director who did not want to be named. “This is going to scare a lot of advertisers.”

In its response to the ASB ruling, Fosters called into question the commercial nous of the ASB, and said its stance that brands should be responsible for user comments was unrealistic.

“The only way for a producer to be certain that no inappropriate user comments appear on a Facebook page for its product would be either not to have that Facebook page at all (which is commercially unsustainable given the importance of social media in marketing in 2012 and its likely increased importance in future), or to review ever user comment before allowing it to appear on the page),” Fosters said in its reply to the ruling.

Other social media experts said the ASB ruling will restrict free or unbridled expression on social networks.

“It goes against the whole grain of social media where you allow people to have a voice,” said David Wesson, a social media strategist, who has managed campaigns for large consumer brands. He said brands should mitigate their risk by introducing house rules and using filters to block offensive content.

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