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The author

Tom Salmon

Managing Director

“We’re not here to be advertised at” tweeted one of Rio Ferdinand’s followers responding to the footballer’s sponsored tweets for Snickers last week. Snickers-gate has raised an interesting issue for digital marketers at a time of maturing social advertising with Search Plus Your World, Facebook Sponsored Stories both causing a stir in early 2012.

We’re all bombarded with messages and advertising, and it’s hard to get your message to stick. It’s well documented that marketers need to use even more sophisticated ways of reaching their target audience. Some commentators explain that tomorrow’s successful marketers are going to be data analysts, finding patterns in terabytes of data to make sure that they’re targeting the right audience with the right messages at the right time.

The whole point of the online world is that people find communities of people who are interested in the same things as them (folding picture of Ross Kemp or zombie crochet). People follow other people who they want to hear from, people that they trust to be entertaining, honest and interesting. So when your favourite celebrity seems to change their personality, and then you find out that someone has paid them to do it, you could be forgiven for feeling lied to. And that’s the trap that social advertisers need to avoid. It’s far too easy to make the same mistakes as marketers have traditionally made in the offline world – bombarding people with irrelevant, annoying, interrupting noise.

The background to all of this is a PR stunt in which celebrities including Ian Botham, Amir Khan, Rio Ferdinand, Cher Lloyd and Katie Price were paid to tweet on unfamiliar issues (Ferdinand on knitting and Price on global politics) before eating a Snickers and returning to ‘normal’. The campaign got a reaction from people for many reasons: including commentators saying that the tweets suggested that eating Snickers turns you into an idiot. But the fierce heat might be yet to come, with the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) investigating undeclared celebrity endorsements and Office of Fair Trading (OFT) expressing concern over the matter. Consumer protection regulations launched in 2008 mean that the OFT can seek a court order, potentially leading to a criminal prosecution and an unlimited fine if celebrities aren’t clear to their audience when they are being  paid to promote products in the form of advertising. It might be the first Twitter campaign to be banned by the ASA who are launching an investigation that could set a new benchmark in social advertising.

It’s no surprise that many of these celebrities’ followers took exception to being advertised to on Twitter. As the number of social advertising channels is growing, with G+ bringing social recommendations into search results pages and Facebook launching sponsored stories, marketers need to remind themselves of the mistakes that have been made in offline advertising before launching themselves into people’s social worlds.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like you are being bombarded by adverts on Twitter? @tominleeds