The ASB’s decision was the result of a complaint against drinks giant Diageo regarding content posted on Facebook. Although the ASB did not uphold that particular complaint, it did not accept Diageo’s argument that Facebook was a communications conduit rather than a marketing tool.
Instead the ASB made it clear that where Facebook was used to encourage or deter support for a product or service then Facebook content should comply with the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ Code of Ethics – and that included comments posted by the general public on the social network.
According to the ASB, which handed down its decision in July; “The Board considered that the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control and could be considered to draw the attention of a segment of the public to a product in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly that product.
“The Board determined that the provisions of the Code apply to an advertiser’s Facebook page. As a Facebook page can be used to engage with customers, the Board further considered that the Code applies to the content generated by the advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends.”
Diageo’s own experience indicates just how powerful social networks can be. Last September it announced it was stepping up its controversial relationship with Facebook to encourage people on the social network to drink its products.
At the time Diageo said it had achieved a 20 per cent boost in sales off the back of the Facebook campaign, with a particular kick for Smirnoff as a result. In November the Financial Times reported that Diageo would spend $10 million on Facebook adverts in return for support from Facebook with its social campaigns.
According to the drinks giant’s own marketing code it only places its content on sites where at least 70 per cent of users are above the legal age of purchasing alcohol, although it notes that where that measurement is not available the company’s corporate relations team would exercise their judgement as to whether the site was appropriate or not to host material about Diageo products.