Twitter and Deceptive AdvertisingAdvertising your business or product

I read today of 9 or 10 of the British Olympic stars who will be competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are using Twitter plugs for sponsors. The trading watchdogs are planning to crackdown on this practice which they call ‘deceptive’ advertising.

Deceptive advertising (also known as false advertising) is where false claims or misleading statements are made in advertising, and includes any advertising which creates a false impression. As this can lead to persuade people to make purchases they may otherwise not have made, many governments have set up regulators to control this practice. However advertisers still find many ways to deceive consumers in ways that may be illegal but which are unenforceable.

The advent of Twitter is a golden opportunity for many brand names and firms hoping to increase exposure to their products and services. Apparently some of our athletes have been paid up to £500,000 to be the ‘face’ of a brand, while many others have been swamped with freebies and gifts in the hope of a plug for the firm’s product.

The types of tweets being sent include speaking excitedly about cars, the sound quality of headphones, breakfast cereals, nail varnish, the benefits of face cream, and how smooth legs are after using a particular epilator.

Where the distinction between the more classic streams of advertising such as on the television and the new Twitter advertising becomes more blurred is the personal aspect. I have never believed in many of the televised advertising campaigns where famous actresses are worth it and so use only certain shampoo brands, or where famous sporting gentlemen insist on the best a man can get and use only specific razor blades. However this is because we see them only in this advertising context.

Twitter on the other hand is more insidious. The tweets containing the advertising plugs are mixed in genuine personal tweets. This can make the advertising much more believable and as such, much more powerful.

As a web designer in Nottingham, I would absolutely love it if the synchronized swimmer Jenna Randall could excitedly tweet about the amazing Small Business Web Design service offered by us and how it too would improve your small business e-commerce operation. The impact would be even greater if the people reading the tweets thought she was being genuinely open and not being paid or influenced by us. I can fully understand why the bigger brands are falling over themselves to offer freebies and financial rewards to these ‘celebrity tweeters’ in an effort to increase their market exposure.

It is little wonder that the Office of Fair Trading wants people to declare they have a relationship with the brands. Jenna Randall is one of the few exceptions who clearly states she is sponsored by 5 separate brands (unfortunately not Net Quality Web Design in Nottingham).

Even though it is a potential mine-field to distinguish between personal freedom of speech and deceptive advertising, I envisage the regulatory bodies will be watching very closely the development of Twitter, celebrity tweets and the marketing of goods and services.

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