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.”


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