Getting your head around Social Media Advertising Standards

Outtakes from the ASA Social Media & Advertising Standards Workshop 2019



I recently attended the "Social Media and Advertising Standards" workshop run by the ASA that focused on advertising standards and how they apply to social media platforms. Here’s my summary of what was covered.

As Social Media becomes a mainstream marketing tool, the Advertising Standards Authority has really stepped up their engagement with the channel, and developed new guidelines to help us all play by the rules. 

And with the Health/Beauty category having more ASA complaints than any other sector, we are well and truly under the spotlight. So with my health & wellness hat firmly on, here are my Top 5 Takeaways: 

Takeaway #1: Social media ads are subject to ASA codes just like any other form of advertisement

How to tell if it's an advertisement? Advertiser control & intent are key.

Any message controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser is considered an advertisement (code guidelines apply). So regardless of language or medium, if you have control over delivery of the message and your intent is to influence the choice, opinion or behaviour of the audience then consider it an advertisement and follow the rules.

This includes any User Generated Content (UGC) or influencer content reposted/shared on your owned social media channels. 

For a more detailed guideline on how to identify an ‘advertisement’ check out the ASA’s Guidance Note on the Identification of Advertisements

Takeaway #2: If you’re engaging Influencers, make sure the rules are clearly communicated to them and actively manage them

Some Influencers have more followers than mainstream publications or channels, others might have only a couple of thousand. Regardless of their audience size, it really is important to have clear guidelines and contracts in place when working with them. 

Remember – if you have any form of editorial control over the message and have exchanged payment for the influencer to post about your product then the content is an ad, you are responsible for it, and the ASA rules apply (btw payment includes freebies – it doesn’t have to be money).

For example, if you engage an influencer to talk about your vitamin supplement and mention certain key product benefits in their post, then you should also ensure they include relevant mandatory information and links as well.

Influencers also have to clearly identify their post as an ad - for example by using identifiers like #advert, #sponsored or #promoted or referring to the advertising clearly in copy or delivery.

The ASA provides some more detail on this in their Guidance Note (link above), but for international best practice they also recommend checking out the ASA UK’s Guidelines for Influencers.

Takeaway #3: User Generated Content (UGC) management is essential

UGC includes images, comments, reviews and testimonials. Any UGC that appears on platforms under your control can be considered ‘advertising’ so it's important to set up some clear community guidelines and actively monitor and moderate your pages.

An interesting example presented at the ASA meeting was where an advertiser had set up a web page to promote their skin cream. The page had a widget that served up live reviews from Google, and one of the reviews posted said the cream had 'cured' her son's eczema and was a 'miracle'. When alerted to the issue, the advertiser removed the testimonial, but it could have been avoided if they were moderating the live feed. 

Takeaway #4: Keep a record of your targeting info  

One area where digital marketing really stands out against traditional media is the ability to target audiences on multiple levels including interests, relationship status, age, location, and online behaviour. This is particularly important for high risk categories like health and wellness. 

If any complaints arise the onus is on the advertiser to show they have targeted appropriately, so it's important to use the tools available and keep a record. 

Takeaway #5:  Consider specific challenges… like when PR becomes an advertisement

An interesting example of this was a social media post on the ASB Classic tennis tournament social media pages where All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie were pictured raising glasses of champagne in a toast.

The post was originally shared by the players with the hashtag #Moet, and then reposted on the @ASBClassic account… making it an ad. And as an ad, the image was clearly in breach of several principles of the Code. Full details of the ASA’s findings are here.

Social media can be a bit of a minefield for health & wellness brands, so if you have any questions or want to have a chat, give me a call on 021 514 200 or drop me an email.  




Talei wong - Social Media Specialist
So you’re a health or wellness brand interested in social media but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve got you.

As specialists in the field for over 20 years we know the industry landscape better than anyone else, and we’ve set up an inhouse social media offering headed by Talei Wong to help you navigate your way. With experience in healthcare marketing and consumer social, Talei is able to offer clients practical, relevant, measurable and approvable (yes!) social media campaigns.

Feel free to connect with Talei (Email/Linkedin) to talk all things social.