Fan comments are now ads? Landmark Diageo ruling makes brands liable for Facebook fan posts

07/08/2012

Companies with Facebook profiles will be accountable for comments made by the public on their pages, following a ruling by an advertising watchdog in Australia. Drinks brand Diageo was referred to the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) in Australia, after complaints about its Smirnoff Facebook page. The complaints related to a number of sexist, racist and obscene comments appearing on the page, along with references to under-age drinking.

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Many large brands use the social media site in order to advertise and get free referrals.

Although the ruling is limited to brands in Australia, its impact could be far-reaching if advertising boards across the world adopt a similar stance to the comments made on brand’s Facebook pages.

The ASB dismissed the original complaint about Smirnoff, but in handing down the ruling, the watchdog advised that industry codes applied not only to what a company was posting on its Facebook page but also to any user-generated comments that followed.

In its ruling, the ASB said:

“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.”

A Diageo spokesperson stressed that the complaint relating to the Smirnoff Facebook page had been dismissed.

"At the same time, [we] are committed to ensuring that all our brand marketing activities comply with the Alcohol Beverage Advertising Code and the codes of the Advertising Standards Bureau," Diageo said.

The decision will have profound implications for advertisers using social media platforms, in particular Facebook which is popular as a way to engage more deeply with consumers.

The judgment states that comments made by ''fans'' of a vodka brand's Facebook page were ads and must therefore comply with industry self-regulatory codes and therefore consumer protection laws.

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