In the UK the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is the advertising industry’s body for self-regulation. It polices advertising using various industry agreed codes.
This week’s round of ASA adjudications is the first time I’ve seen a ruling about a blog.
The ruling relates to blogs placed on a number of football club websites in the UK by radio station talkSPORT.
One of the blog posts was written in a fairly chatty style and clearly was meant to read as if it had been placed by a regular football fan, when in fact it had been placed by talkSPORT:
“Fellas, Have you heard what talksport [sic] radio are doing this season. They are recruiting a fan from every club in the premiership and football league, 92 fans in total who will become the voice for their club on their station. If the manager is sacked, the club has gone into administration or if the club mascot has gone missing, they will call you up and get you on air as a representative for your club. I found this link on their website, so head there is [sic] you wanna register … Those selected will get a free copy of FIFA 07 from EA Sports on whatever platform you wish. At the end of the day it basically gives you the chance to be on air regularly throughout the entire football season and it might even get you on the first step to a new career. I just hope we get someone who knows what he is talking about!”
The ASA ruled that this form of advertising breached its code on two counts: firstly because it was untruthful (it was misleading as it read like a genuine post from a real fan) and secondly as the post wasn’t readily identifiable as advertising.
For me this is important as it shows the ASA will apply its code to blogs, and probably by extension other social media tools. While most marketers are familiar with the ASA codes, I suspect many public relations practictioners are less so.
However even if PR people don’t know the ASA codes, the root cause of this upheld ruling is an issue that the public relations profession is equally hot on: being open and transparent.
There is a growing list of examples where a lack of transparency in social media activity by organisations has backfired – and it looks like, in the UK at least, one of the industry regulators is going to be policing the social media space too.