Should Advertising Regulate in Social Media?

1 09 2010

Today the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that it extend its remit to cover “marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter”.  The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has decided to extend the digital remit of the ASA and has today published a document detailing the new remit and sanctions.

I have some serious and personal concerns about the document.  In justifying the extension of its remit ASA refers to 3,500 complaints in 2008 and 2009 about the content of organisation’s websites.  How does this relate to social networks or social media?  Throughout the document there is constant reference to “other marketing communication” (sixteen times on 14 pages) with only a very loose definition of what constitutes “other marketing communication” suggesting that it is concerned principally with the primary intention “to sell something”.  Marketing communications is so much broader than that.

The plan is to carry out a review of guidelines in 2013, two years after the implementation of the extended remit.  This shows a fundamental misunderstanding and disregard for the speed of change on-line; for example in two years Twitter went from zero to 10 million tweets per day.  Spotify, which is fundamentally changing the music business, is less than two years old.

There is also a contradiction in terms of definition.  The guidelines exclude “press releases and other public relations material” and yet the definition of “other marketing communications” includes items that could be considered to be public relations material, for example the promotion of unsolicited (or solicited) consumer endorsement.

I would endorse all of the objectives of the CAP code with regard to the prohibition of misleading advertising, the protection of children and social responsibility.  The intentions here are good there is no doubt of that.  I just can’t help feeling that in regulating the social media space, bodies that concern themselves with advertising and have advertising in their title feel more than a little out-of-place.

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The Death of Demographics

25 01 2010

3d pie chartThe advent of social media marketing and PR marks the beginning of the end for the use of demographics in targeting consumers.

The PR agency that I work for was recently appointed to conduct an on-line PR campaign for a major brand in the DIY sector.  The target online media list was rigorously profiled and we identified people who might readily be interested in the product.  We were then asked to check whether the demographics of the target blogs, forums and sites was in line with the target market for the product.  Demographic data is now available from sites like Alexa.com. So we did it.

I wonder however what the value of this really is.  Demographics are about getting closer to your target audience but it is an imprecise science.  The holy grail in marketing is the aquisition of ethnographic data.  Ethnographics are holistic covering the places where people live, what they do for a living, what they eat and drink, their customs, language and culture.  In social networks we can build an accurate ethnographically detailed picture of our target audience based on what they do and what interests and excites them.  Whatever part of the social spectrum they might come from the fact is that they have shown an interest in a relevant area.  That’s an insight more powerful than any generalisation based on class, sex, race or place.








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