Not so clear: What the Smirnoff ruling means for brands on Facebook

On 11th July a court in Australia decided that a brand’s Facebook page should be subject to the same rules as advertising, including 3rd party comments posted to...

Smirnoff Facebook ruling

Smirnoff Facebook ruling

On 11th July a court in Australia decided that a brand’s Facebook page should be subject to the same rules as advertising, including 3rd party comments posted to the page. The implications for brands are potentially huge.

In the case, involving Smirnoff, the vodka brand, the judge ruled that: “The Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control and could be considered to draw the attention of a segment of the public to a product in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly that product”.

This means that, not only do brands need to ensure every post on their Facebook Page meets the strict guidelines of the ASB, they also need to pre-moderate user comments added to their page, effectively ruling out real-time engagement and potentially adding a significant community management overhead.

One example of a comment that would fall foul of advertising rules was cited hypothetically in Forbes: “If a user claimed that Smirnoff vodka was the purest Russian vodka or it could lead to success with women, the company would be liable.” The comment apparently breaches advertising rules three times, as there’s no proof that it’s the “purest”, Smirnoff is actually an Australian brand (who knew?) and, contrary to whatever drunken delusions you may have, drinking it is no guarantee of success with the opposite sex.

The implications of this ruling are potentially massive for organisations that use Facebook for marketing and customer engagement in Australia, but also potentially in the UK, US and beyond. Common law courts often look to their counterparts in other countries for guidance, so a precedent in Australia should cause concern to brands the world over.

Experts have brushed off claims that this heralds the ‘death of social media marketing’, stressing that brands simply need to take as much care with their social media activities as they do with other communications.

In this sense, the ruling may be a positive step towards the responsible management of social media, but it will, inevitably, also cause many brands to re-think their Facebook marketing plans. Unsurprisingly, Facebook has declined to comment on the matter.

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    Anonymous Reply

    I’ve long wanted at least the option of pre-moderating Facebook comments (like blogging software offers). While this seems like an overreaching decision, it may at least have the benefit of prompting Facebook to offer a long overdue feature.