The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today said it told Nike U.K. to stop the sponsored tweets of footballers Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney. In January, the two players, both sponsored by Nike, tweeted using the #makeitcount hashtag. The Make It Count campaign, launched in April by the sports clothing manufacturer, promotes Nike Fuel, a suite of products to help people measure their athletic activities.
Releasing its decision, the ASA wrote, "Nike believed the tweets could be objectively viewed as marketing communications because of the presence of the Nike URL within the body of the tweets, which indicated that the tweets' purpose was to direct followers to the Nike website.
The ASA provided examples of personal tweets by both footballers which did not contain the Nike URL and did not refer to their professional capacity as footballers. According to the ASA, Nike "said when viewed alongside each other, which was similar to the way followers would view a Twitter feed, they believed it was clear which were personal tweets and which were ads. They believed that the inclusion of the Nike URL, combined with the Nike campaign strap line #makeitcount, made sufficiently clear that those tweets were advertising."
But the ASA upheld the complaint, pointing out that not all consumers would know #makeitcount was a Nike campaign. The Committee of Advertising Practice Codes, which are administered by the ASA, say that marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such, and that they shouldn't give the impression that a marketer is acting as a consumer.
The ASA noted that the athletes' tweets had been approved by Nike before being released.
The initial ASA examiner's decision was that the Tweets were clear and not misleading about their connection to Nike's Make It Count campaign," said Kejuan Wilkins, Nike's North America media relations director. "We are disappointed that the ASA's final decision overturned the initial examiner's judgment. We do not believe that Twitter followers were misled because it was clear that the messages were connected to Nike's Make It Count message. We, and many others, welcome the ASA's evolving guidance on the use of Twitter in marketing."
Cara Fuggetta, marketing manager for word-of-mouth marketing agency Zuberance, thinks consumers are smart enough to know a paid celebrity tweet when they see one. She said, "As consumers, we are aware that celebrity endorsements do not equate to true advocacy. Does Kim Kardashian actually buy and recommend Skechers shape-ups? Does Fabio rave to all his friends about cooking with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter? Doubtful. Therefore, I don't believe adding some sort of indication that a tweet is an #ad is necessary," she wrote in an email.
Rooney appears in a Nike Football commercial released on Monday, while Wilshere gives advice in Nike's Pro Answers series via a piece released on Nike's YouTube channel last week.
In December 2009, the Federal Trade Commission enacted new guidelines for word-of-mouth advertising in the U.S. that require endorsements made via social media to disclose any "material connections" between advertiser and endorser, including direct payments and free samples.
The agency responsible for the Nike sponsored tweets is AKQA. Today, WPP announced the acquisition of the 11-year-old independent agency.
Neither AKQA nor Nike responded to requests for comment in time for publication.
With this adjudication, Nike joins a list of less-than-illustrious marketers on the ASA's wall of shame that includes Psychics-Live, LeanSlimUltra, and Scandinavian Log Cabins Direct.
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
March 19, 2014