Smirnoff row leads to Facebook changes

8th August, 2012 by Becky Paskin

A landmark ruling in Australia could forever change the way spirit brands around the world are able to use Facebook.

Advertising on Smirnoff's Facebook page

Smirnoff’s case may change the way spirits can use Facebook forever

Spirit brands in the country are being made responsible for any inappropriate comments made by members of the public on their Facebook pages, following a row between Smirnoff and the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB).

The board has ruled that posts made to a Facebook page are classed as advertising, regardless of whether they’re from the company or a member of the public.

Complaints made against comments and photographs uploaded by both Smirnoff and members of the public to the Diageo-owned vodka brand’s Facebook page have resulted in the landmark ruling in Australia.

Content such as photos alleged to depict excessive consumption, sexism, racism and ‘other forms of discrimination or vilification’, and ‘material that connects alcohol consumption with sexual prowess’, were viewed by complainants to be against the country’s Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC).

But while the ASB couldn’t find fault with any images or comments posted on the page, it agreed that as a Facebook page is a marketing communication tool, the ABAC should be applicable.

“As a Facebook page can be used to engage with customers, the Board further considered that the Code applies to the content generated by the advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends,” it said in its findings.

The decision is expected to be the first of many similar rulings in countries around the world.

Facebook advertising

Smirnoff however argued that as Facebook is a communication medium like TV or radio, it wasn’t fair to class all content as advertising.

“Facebook, just like television and radio, is a platform for engaging with people in a myriad of different ways (e.g. advertising, relationship building, and entertainment),” the brand said in a statement. “It therefore follows that Facebook fan pages and the content they contain should not be assessed as traditional, paid-for advertising.

“We also wish to note that a Facebook fan page can be created at no cost to an individual or brand owner. Supplementary activities are charged at a cost, but the content under complaint is in fact free content.”

The complaint also drew attention to the fact that under-18s are able to access alcohol advertising, follow a brand and post on its wall, causing speculation as to whether Facebook will implement an age-verification wall similar to that used by alcohol brands on Twitter.

The Twitter age verification app, launched in July, forces new followers of alcohol brands in the US to enter their date of birth before they can be accepted as a follower.

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