Ad watchdog’s stance on Facebook brand pages is ‘commercially unrealistic’, VB warns

VB beer facebookA ruling by Australia’s ad watchdog that makes brands responsible for fan comments on their Facebook pages will make use of the social media network “commercially unrealistic”, VB has warned.

The comments from VB come in the report from the Advertising Standards Board which has been rush released after its finding was leaked to The Australian yesterday.

The VB Facebook was always, and still is, handled by the client directly.The brand, which argued that many of the fan comments were meant ironically, has also blamed its previous agency for failing to remove some comments.

In its submission to the ASB, parent company Foster’s group said:

“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 every User Comment before allowing it to appear on the page.

“A requirement for pre-moderation of every User Comment would be contrary to the spirit of social media and would cause users to become disengaged from the page, i.e. they are unlikely to tolerate the inevitable delay between their submitting a post and it appearing on the site, which runs contrary to the sense of immediacy and spontaneity that users expect from a Facebook page.

“Further it would require an unreasonably high level of resourcing by the producer – effectively, moderation staff would need to be engaged 24/7, every day of the year, to review every User Comment as quickly as possible after it is submitted. This is commercially unrealistic.”

The complaint does not appear to have come directly from a concerned consumer. The Australian reports it was from two academics testing the system. The group also unsuccessfully complained about the Facebook page of Diageo’s vodka brand Smirnoff. VB argues that the complaint “does not represent the views of the true audience”.

The complaint stated: “This submission asks that the Alcohol Advertising Review Board examine content on the Australian Facebook pages of VB and Smirnoff. When applying the (industry) codes to material openly available on the Facebook pages of VB and Smirnoff it appears that some of it features: Sexism racism and other forms of discrimination or vilification; Irresponsible drinking and excessive consumption;  Obscene language depiction ofunder-25 year olds consuming alcohol; Material that connects alcohol consumption with sexual or social prowess.”

VB also argued that its fans were being ironic including in their use of the word gay. It argued:

“The tone of the VB Page is tongue in cheek and ironic. This is consistent with the overall tone of Facebook and much of the Internet generally. It is a tone commonly used and understood by the demographic principally targeted by VB.

“In this context, readers of the VB Page will view the User Comments (and to a lesser degree, the VB Brand Posts) as “throw-away lines” i.e. spontaneous contributions that are not well thought through (in many cases they are not even grammatical), that are expressed in the vernacular and that are not to be taken seriously. For example, a post on the VB Page such as “cricket is so uber gay! cant wait 4 tha footy season lol” should not be understood, in context, as discriminating against or vilifying any section of the community … For the relevant audience, “gay” is not a word that necessarily refers to sexual preference – it can be used as a general term of lighthearted dismissal.

As another example, a User Comment on the VB Page such as “is a man’s job women should b chained 2 da kitchen! Lmfao” (in response to a Brand Post by VB about brewing being every man‟s dream job) would not be understood by the relevant audience as discriminating against or vilifying any section of the community on the basis of gender. This is clearly an ironic User Comment, intended to be humorous because it is intentionally outrageous. In the case of this User Comment the final acronym, meaning “Laughing my f-ing arse off”, puts it beyond doubt that the User Comment is intended to be ironic.

“There are other indicators of the lighthearted and non-literal mood i.e. use of excessive punctuation (or lack of punctuation), lack of good grammar, use of slang, use of abbreviations and excessive use of capital letters, throughout the User Comments.

However, the ASB did not accept the irony defence, ruling: “The Board noted that comments included on the Facebook page referenced “sluts”, “pussy”, “tits”, “big titted women” and statements such as “women should be chained to da kitchen”. The Board considered that the comments posted on the site, in response to questions raised by the advertiser to engage with the community, were discriminatory toward women.

“The Board noted the user posted comments included references to ‘bloody poofs’, ‘gay as fuckin aids’, and ‘poofter’. The Board considered that these comments were derogatory and used in an insulting manner and were degrading to homosexual people in the community.”

However, the brand said it accepted that there were comments on its page that should have been removed. It said: “We would like to acknowledge that a number of the comments posted by fans of the VB Facebook page were clearly inappropriate. And we are disappointed that they were not removed through the review process we had in place.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to explain that whilst these user comments had remained on our VB Facebook page (for varying lengths of time), this was due to the fact that some had been missed in the monitoring process. We have discussed this complaint with the agency (who previously managed the VB Facebook page) in order to understand how this happened and found that despite ongoing monitoring some of the comments had “slipped through” and then unfortunately were not picked up later.”


  1. Daniel-Jacob Santhou
    7 Aug 12
    1:24 pm

  2. I don’t even need to finish reading this article.

    On Facebook, a brand is a person as well. If others don’t like what they have up there, don’t follow them, don’t like them, simply just don’t.

    Instead of the blame game, maybe we should be shifting to the actual use of such a platform. The owner (brand, author) dictates and determines its viability. Not the people, not some watchdogs.

    We can’t make everybody happy in life. If we’re happy with what we do, and it doesn’t hurt anyone, why trouble them?



  3. Nanny State
    7 Aug 12
    1:30 pm

  4. u mad?

  5. Fex
    7 Aug 12
    1:33 pm

  6. “I don’t even need to finish reading this article.”

    I didn’t even need to finish reading your comment.

    Not reading the content you’re commenting on isn’t a badge of pride.

  7. Jake
    7 Aug 12
    1:37 pm

  8. There’s no way to win here. Either you leave comments up and expose your business to liability, or you moderate (which means deleting comments, let’s be honest) and the public crucifies you for “censorship”.

  9. Nathan
    7 Aug 12
    1:39 pm

  10. Agree with Fex.

    Why would i bother reading your comment when you haven’t bothered reading the article.

    I guess it’s the same as agencies not bothering to read your ‘big balls’ on this same website.

  11. AdGrunt
    7 Aug 12
    1:42 pm

  12. Wash your mouth out Daniel.

    It is the God-given right of pearl-clutchers and wowsers across Australia to speak for everyone else and seek out hysterical prohibition in anything and everything.

    Don’t you know brands and individuals are unable to make a choice?

  13. Niq
    7 Aug 12
    2:08 pm

  14. What.a.joke.

  15. Daniel
    7 Aug 12
    2:18 pm

  16. “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
    — Salman Rushdie

    “Censorship is advertising paid by the government.” — Federico Fellini

  17. Trish van Tussenbroek
    7 Aug 12
    2:40 pm

  18. It is incomprehensible that brands do not understand that social media needs to be monitored! Anyone advising a brand on their social media strategy and not recommending that they are monitoring the page regularly is plain negligent. This move was always going to come. Just like negative comments will have people yelling defamation and brand damage in the future.

    How many times must consumers show brands that social media happens real time! If the marketing manager is checking his Facebook on a Saturday morning, what does he think the consumer is doing??

    We work with agencies and companies all the time to do exactly that. The agency comes up with the strategy and content plan, we manage, monitor and respond.

    Whilst people still have the above view that: “Further it would require an unreasonably high level of resourcing by the producer – effectively, moderation staff would need to be engaged 24/7, every day of the year, to review every User Comment as quickly as possible after it is submitted. This is commercially unrealistic.” brands will shy away from social media due to expense and risk and miss out on the positive aspects.

    People need to be more comfortable with engaging people who can add scale rather than trying to add another producer each time the brand needs to broaden it’s monitoring hours. It’s not commercially unrealistic unless you are trying to do it the same old way and expecting a different result.

    Think customer service/call centres not advertising!

  19. Jorge
    7 Aug 12
    5:36 pm

  20. Oh I’m sorry Fosters. I didn’t know ‘gay’ meant a lighthearted dismissal. In no way is the term gay acceptable to use in a negative manner. It only reflects how uneducated your representative is in matters of discourse. You are also implying your audience is an uneducated cohort. Again the matter of deleting comments makes for interesting discussion. The user posts in question are stimulating conversation that is offensive and by all means should be deleted or at the very least hidden. Having an opinon is fine but bigotry has no place in a public sphere and should be moderated.

  21. Al
    7 Aug 12
    6:29 pm

  22. Seems everyone is avoiding/missing the real issue – VB didn’t meet the Advertising Standards and protocols which it has agreed to abide by.

    This isn’t so much about social media, but about advertisers understanding their communication channels and what responsibilities they have when they use them publicly.

    It is not about freedom of expression or censorship or “lighthearted” or ‘ironic” language – its about responsibility when advertising and marketing alcohol. That has been an issue long before social media.

  23. Alison Michalk
    7 Aug 12
    8:36 pm

  24. If brands pages are being neglected or rarely moderated you’d think someone at a digital agency would have the foresight to utilise the profanity filter and moderation blocklist. The issue often seems to be that the “Community Manager” was the product manager or the receptionist the week prior to the pitch being won.

    +1 Trish’s comment. I should divulge that we’re also in the business of providing community management and moderation services – the fact that a number of vendors exist in this space should demonstrate that it’s far from commercially unrealistic.

    Freedom of expression has never been about abusing or offending any of societies numerous groups in a mindless or thoughtless manner, even as an “ironic user comment,” or joke. Freedom of expression is about championing a responsible care and dialogue for everybody concerned, not about dragging any element of a civilized society down. Don’t all media workers know that professionally published material is given great thought and care to if it’s to be taken seriously? Do we know and understand the power of communications? Isn’t this why it exists in the first place? One would hope so. Shheeze… While it may be somewhat socially taboo to state publicly, we know a large percentage of people find it difficult thinking independently correctly for themselves and the power of social pressure and various media upon social issues. There needs to be sensible limits to social media expression without completely sanitising the medium. Correct and effective social media use does require the employ of constant and consistent monitoring and content creation and the return on investment grows healthily as a direct result of this. Lazy work is simply that, careless and lazy, inattentive work. Having a laugh, and not really giving a toss about the decency, truth or vested interests in published work, even in the ever increasing power of social media, fall far below showing care for social responsibility and as a result, is totally socially irresponsible. It’s also bad for business in the long run; creating more problems for others than what it’s worth. Sure sometimes questionable, risque content may be leveraged in favour to a brands or individuals personal interest but let’s cut out the bull crap and realise the effect of ones words and images upon others. The Advertising Standards Board is merely doing its job. And it’s sad that it’s needed. If Foster’s Group believes that, “This is commercially unrealistic,” to achieve, brief apologies for the blatant self-promotional plug, but all they need to do is call us for a quick consultation. Seriously. It’s obvious they still haven’t yet worked out how to make social media work for them completely yet. One wonders what the communications agency Fosters Group employed was doing when they over looked correct usage of social media in implementing a communications strategy. If this issue was overlooked, then has there been other things not taken into consideration? Surely it would seem, this brands attitude towards professional social media practice is in question and lacking in knowledge, experience and very real understanding. It seems they are learning now… But really, seriously, give us a call!

  25. AdGrunt
    9 Aug 12
    1:05 pm

  26. The problem you have talked around, at some length, is where to draw the line.

    The actual question is who draws it and with what empowerment to enforce. I believe it should be broadly self-selecting. If you don’t like the bawdy repartee on the VB page then don’t “like” it or visit it. Or even don’t buy the product.

    Because the rest of us can actually work it out and filter stuff for ourselves.

  27. Eh?
    9 Aug 12
    9:49 pm

  28. What happened to ‘the views expressed here are in no way associated with XYZ ltd and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of it’s management or’… You get the picture. The same fine print on every letters to the editor page in print publications.

    Now if comments are found to be defamatory or threatening, then there isnjustbcause for libel but look at any NRL team page and have a read of the comments there. ‘Go suck a big fat dick you redneck/Muslimu #$&$#’ appears quite frequently. Do they get sued? Hell no.

    Nobodies talking around anything. Thanks once again for a limited POV. The answer lays in the details. It’s not easy for everybody to appreciate and frankly I’m not running courses here to educate you. (like I said, give us a call – we’ll sort it out most effectively.) It’s a shame some people lack a sense of decency, ethics and other slightly more sophisticated things of this nature, grunt. If this was the case many time wasting dialogues such as this one (and many others) wouldn’t need to be had.

  29. Jacqui
    10 Aug 12
    1:48 pm

  30. Here’s how my company manages its page – we hide posts that contain profanity or offensive remarks, and we respond to the person who posted them with the reason why we’ve hidden their post. We ask them to respect the page and the other people who use it. It is definitely worth moderating your page in this way – your brand deserves this care. I question why VB even has a Facebook page if they’re not moderating in this basic way – how can their brand or their customers benefit from these kinds of comments? Social media is not “free advertising” – let’s not forget the responsibility that goes with bringing people together online around your brand.

  31. 1516
    10 Aug 12
    2:21 pm

  32. Do people still drink VB? It has to be the worst beer in Oz doesn’t it?

    I guess the people who do drink VB cant think for themselves, hence why companies with large marketing power, need to be pulled up from time to time?

    Okay, it is Friday, it is approaching beer o’clock and if anyone hands me a VB, I will be very disappointed.

  33. Samuel
    10 Aug 12
    8:50 pm

  34. Lol at VB’s effort about the use of the word gay..

    “For the relevant audience, “gay” is not a word that necessarily refers to sexual preference – it can be used as a general term of lighthearted dismissal.”

    Lighthearted my arse – let’s change the phrase “that’s so gay” to

    -that’s so aboriginal
    – that’s so female
    -that’s so disabled

    to describe something bad. and see if it’s lighthearted..

    It’s homophobia whether recognised or not .