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ASB rules brands are responsible for all fan comments on Facebook

Ad Standards

The industry watchdog Advertising Standards Bureau has ruled that it considers Facebook pages managed by brands to be a form of advertising, based on a ruling on a complaint against alcohol brand Diageo.

The decision means the ASB believes brands are responsible for the content written by fans on branded Facebook pages.

In a move echoing an ACCC ruling in 2011, which found Allergy Pathways to be responsible for deceptive posts on its Page, the ASB found that comments left by fans could be considered to promote the brand.

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.

The ruling was made by the ASB in response to a complaint about the Smirnoff Facebook page, managed by Profero and Diageo.

In the ruling, the board responded to complaints made about images and comments made by the brand and fans which the complaint claimed were obscene, promoted excessive drinking and “connected alcohol consumption with sexual or social prowess”

The Board rejected Diageo’s response, which claimed that all Facebook could not be considered advertising because Facebook is an engagement platform, and Facebook is a no-cost medium offering free content.

Diageo commented:

“Facebook, just like television and radio, is a platform for engaging with people in a myriad of different ways (e.g. advertising, relationship building, and entertainment).”

The complaint itself, which referred to photos of people posing with drinks, was rejected by the ASB, but the results will have wide-ranging repercussions for brand managers and Facebook administrators.

According to the Australian, a forthcoming ruling by the ASB against Carlton and United Breweries beer brand VB will find the brand responsible for alleged racist, sexist and anti-gay comment on its Facebook page. The management of the VB page will be taken over by Clemenger BBDO Melbourne shortly, after Clems won the account from Droga5. The Facebook page was previously managed by the client.

A spokesperson for Droga 5 told Mumbrella the agency would not be commenting on the issue.

The recently updated Facebook Timeline for brands gives page administrators the ability to pre-moderate comments, to restrict access to underage Facebook users, to restrict the kinds of posts users can share (photos or videos by users can be blocked) as well as setting “Page Visibility” so that administrators are required to approve all posts that appear on a brand’s timeline.

However, pre-moderation would represent a significant increase in the workload for Page administrators and could have a serious impact on a brand’s ability to have the sort of real-time conversations with fans that have come to typify social media engagement.

Alina Bain, director of codes, policy and regulatory affairs at the Australian Association of National Advertisers told Mumbrella: “Advertisers accept they have a duty of care to avoid comments being posted on their websites that are misleading or breach the restrictions in the self regulatory system.  The question is how that can be best achieved without destroying the integrity and spirit of social media.  That’s a challenge that faces anyone whether that be a media company, an advertiser, a blogger, whoever.  We’ll review the ASB decision and discuss with our members how we can help them meet their self-regulatory and legal responsibilities in this environment.”

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