To #ad, or not to #ad…

Posted: Thursday 09th November 2017

Author: Tom Platt


Those of you following the news recently may have seen the story about reality TV star Marnie Simpson reportedly breaking the advertisement rules on Snapchat. The 25-year-old social media influencer has fallen foul of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) rules against hidden advertising on social media.

Simpson uploaded a couple of images of products from two firms that she has an affiliation with, but without placing the hashtag, ‘#ad’ in either of the posts – an act that informs a viewer of a post that it is technically an advertisement.

One person came forward to complain to the ASA about the images, which automatically deleted 24 hours after they were posted (as Snapchat story posts do). As they no longer exist, the ASA were not able to tell Simpson to take any action on the posts. The punishment for Simpson and the companies in question was… well, non-existent – they were reminded of the rules and told to include the hashtag in any future ads.

What’s the issue here? Well, the fact I’m writing a blog about this news story speaks volumes. Being a celebrity and the first person to break the rules on Snapchat, Simpson’s misdeeds picked up quite a bit of coverage, with some of the country’s major news outlets running the story. This is exposure for her as a brand, as well as the two companies she advertised with – people will talk about them and ultimately, that’s what they wanted when the posts went up. Even if the ASA or Trading Standards handed out a fine, their names being mentioned in national news outlets has led to a lot of exposure and potentially to an increased amount of profits from sales, which could outweigh the financial setback any fine could have had on them.

One may question whether these acts from Simpson were planned, with the knowledge that it could generate a bit of a stir, or if they were simply an accident – if planned, it’s been something of a PR masterstroke, especially given her fans (most likely teenagers) are unlikely to care that she ‘broke some rules on social media’.

This makes me wonder as to whether other celebrity brand endorsers may leave off the #ad in the near future, either by accident or otherwise, and gain coverage in national news. The punishments, at this point in time at least, barely register on the ‘slap on the wrist’ end of the spectrum – this could lead to brands balancing risk and reward in order to get their names out there. And let’s face it, the public domain are unlikely to be too perturbed by one of their favourite people getting around some advertising rules.

Simpson isn’t the first to make this error and probably won’t be the last. With the presence of ads increasing on social media, it will be interesting to see if other spokespersons trip up on the rules and what the repercussions for their acts will be. Regardless of the severity, a bit of media coverage about their slipups may not end up being such a bad thing.


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