Social media advertising

The Ad Standards Community Panel has considered complaints about internet advertising since 2006.

Generally, complaints must be about Australian social media pages and websites. Material that is located on a product specific website or “microsite” will be considered as advertising or marketing communications and is within the jurisdiction of the Community Panel.

Advertiser's corporate websites are a slightly different situation. Material located on an advertiser’s own website may be considered advertising or marketing communications if the material is designed to promote a particular product or to strongly promote the advertiser. Material such as this that is the subject of complaints will be assessed on a case by case basis by Ad Standards and, if it is considered that the material complained about falls within the definition of advertising or marketing communications, the complaint will be referred to the Community Panel.

In terms of diversity of media, Ad Standards now considers complaints about activities in media such as SMS Marketing, in-store marketing, advertiser owned Apps and elements of advertiser social media pages.

How does brand promotion fit in?

The definition of advertising and marketing communication clearly, and without ambiguity, applies to any material or activities that is within the control of an advertiser and that draws the attention of the public in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly a ‘product, service, organisation or line of conduct.’

Brand promotions will therefore be considered as advertising or marketing communications as they are calculated to promote the organisation.

Other material that would fall within this definition will be excluded however if it is ‘excluded advertising or marketing communications’ as defined in the AANA Code of Ethics. Material such as press releases, factual product information on websites, and information on how to contact the advertiser etc. will generally be considered not to be advertising or marketing communications.

How does this relate to social media pages?

The very broad definition of advertising or marketing communications is intended to and does apply to a wide range of material broadcast and published by advertisers.

In the same way that not all content on an advertiser’s corporate website is advertising or marketing communications, not all material on an advertiser’s social media page will necessarily be considered advertising or marketing communications.

Branded material on such pages such as games featuring the product, recipes using the product, suggestions to buy the product will all be considered as advertising or marketing communications and subject to the requirements of the Code of Ethics. Advertiser posts on a social media page which feature the product or encourage purchase or consumption of the product or service will also be considered advertising or marketing communications, as will user generated comments appearing on the page in relation to such posts.

This applies to all social media websites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Some material on a social media page will not be considered advertising or marketing communications and complaints about such material will be considered by other bodies. For example, complaints about news reports, articles, editorials, letters, cartoons, images and other published material may be covered by the Australian Press Council, and, where appropriate, complainants will be referred to that Council for consideration of their complaint.

Each complaint will require consideration by Ad Standards about whether the complained about component of the social media page amounts to advertising or marketing communications as defined in the Code of Ethics or is more properly considered by another agency.

The Community Panel’s view on social media content

Most social media sites require participants to be 13 years or over to create an account. It is not relevant for the Community Panel to consider that some parents allow children younger than this to create social media profiles or to use other people’s accounts. This is the same approach as is applied in relation to classification ratings for television and cinema. The Community Panel can only apply the provisions of the Code taking into account the classification and rating – and must make a decision based on the assumption that a parent or carer has followed the relevant classifications. However, social media page owners are able to limit access to their pages to people 18 and above. If an advertiser had used such controls then the Community Panel will assess the complaint on the basis that the material is directed to people 18 and over.

Certain Sections on the Code of Ethics require a relevant audience test. When determining whether language or sex, sexuality and nudity is acceptable on a social media page the Community Panel can take into account that the audience for a social media page may be targeted and is not aimed at the general public.

The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) updated the Code of Ethics in March 2017 to include a Section on distinguishable advertising. This change was made to ensure that consumers had a clear understanding of when they were being advertised to and applies to all advertising platforms, including social media. The Ad Standards Community Panel have looked at social media influencer content under this Section of the Code.

Practical outcomes

A range of industry activities have led to the development of practice guides in how to manage social media. Responsible advertisers will consider both the Code of Ethics and practice notes for advertisers, as well as social media guidelines developed by the AANA, ABAC, the Communications Council and the ACCC in managing their advertising and marketing communications.