Rules Rules Rules

Blog posted by James Whatley
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James Whatley, marketing director at word of mouth marketing agency, 1000heads, offers some thoughts around the IAB, the notion of celebrity and its subsequent endorsement in relation to advertising standards and regulations.


18th January 2011. That was the date of the this year's first meeting of the IAB Social Media Council (SMC). Back then all the talk was about the impending ASA remit extension that would soon cover companies' own marketing claims on their own websites as well as  in other non-paid for space they control. As an industry trade body the IAB SMC assembled and collectively pondered on what would be considered best practice for adhering to these standards, on Twitter for example. I don't think it was at that meeting that any kind of course of action was agreed, however, I do believe a large amount of the assembled members agreed that, like our US counterparts, '#ad' would probably work best.

Fast forward six months and with the remit fully in place, has anything changed? Not really. Has there been a seismic shift in the behaviour of online advertisers? Probably not. Admittedly we haven't seen any major cases reported to the ASA quite yet, but isn't that thanks to a certain level of understanding and intelligence of your average internet user? If we move away from the online world for a second and instead think about the combined worlds of brand, celebrity and sport personality - how do these kind of standards play out there? Case in point: Tiger Woods and Nike.

When we see Mr Woods teeing up at the PGA Tour do we question that the Nike cap he chooses to wear is there for any other reason than advertising? No. Of course not. It's an expectation. Something that we, as the viewing public, have grown to accept within this particular industry. It's a given that this happens. However, it's also assumed that - given his high profile nature - that this sponsorship must have happened. Why else would he be wearing the logo?  And of course, there is no doubt that Nike put out a press release when this sponsorship was made - but how long ago was that? Tapping the word 'ad' on the tail of everything [paid for] that we publish is kind of silly really.

Yes of course I agree that we should ultimately make it explicit that a piece of content created in the name of advertising in fact an ad, but why not have something hidden away on our website/homepage/bio that this is the case? Better yet, why are we even attempting to replicate this in what is fundamentally a different medium? Product placement in movies (and games)? Nike on Tiger Woods? Bloggers being paid to write about products? These are all 100% totally different examples.

So HOW can we expect to retrofit one solution across them all? They won't fit - a new solution is required. Everything that's been written about social media has defined how different it is from the rest of the media types that have come before it. Here we are at the turn of a new decade (yes we are) and now suddenly the free world of the internet is being regulated. So now what?

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