When comments are advertisements….

Accusation that drinks group encouraged irresponsible alcohol consumption in a tweet highlights social media challenge for business

Businesses must make sure they are not breaching advertising regulations when they update their social media feeds.

The reminder follows the news that Diageo’s Guinness® UK brand has been cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of implying that alcohol could improve a person’s week, after a tweet on the brand’s social media account was branded “irresponsible”.

Alcohol Concern filed a complaint with the ASA when @GuinnessGB tweeted a photograph of the brewery gates with the caption, “a good week starts here” as part of a promotional campaign to champion the people working at the brewery.

The tweet was challenged as breaching the responsible advertising code, but the ASA decided that consumers would not confuse the brewery gates with a bar or other social venue where alcohol was consumed.

“We also noted that the photo was tweeted on Monday,” said the ASA in their ruling. “In this context, we considered that the ad was likely to be interpreted as having a dual meaning: as an expression of opinion from those who worked at the brewery about the week of work ahead and their enjoyment of their work; and as an indication to the public that Guinness, which began its journey to them at the brewery, could be consumed as part of a ‘good week.’”

But the complaint is a reminder to businesses to tighten up their social media policy to make sure they don’t breach advertising regulations, as the boundaries between paid-for advertising and other forms of communication become more blurred.

“Social media has become a colossus and controlling its use is a real issue for businesses that want to make sure the benefits outweigh the problems,” said Ray Crudgington, Managing Partner of Grant Saw solicitors.  “It’s a medium that relies on speed of response and short, pithy comments, and that’s precisely why it’s a minefield to manage.

“It’s all too easy to have someone keen to keep the chat going, without thinking about what they are stepping into, such as in this case.   There is also the problem of employees being too quick to voice their own opinions and land their employer in hot water.”

He added:  “Social media usage by commercial organisations needs constant review and clarification within a business’s marketing strategy and terms of employment.”

The ASA ruled that the Twitter advertisement did not breach CAP Code rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising), 18.1, 18.3, 18.6 and 18.7 (Alcohol).

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.