Nike, Twitter, and the ASA: new rules are required

A fifteen minute lunchtime download

Guardian Headline

It happened.

If you missed this in the press, Nike had their Twitter campaign banned because they were found to be in breach of the ASA’s online remit around transparency.

The ASA said –

“We considered that the Nike reference was not prominent and could be missed. We considered there was nothing obvious in the tweets to indicate they were Nike marketing communications.

In the absence of such an indication, for example #ad, we considered the tweets were not obviously identifiable as Nike marketing communications and therefore concluded they breached the [advertising] code. The ads must no longer appear. We told Nike to ensure that its advertising was obviously identifiable as such”.

You can read the full and thorough article over on The Guardian, however (and if you’ve already done that), for me, this finding throws up a whole other set of questions that I first started pondering nearly a year ago.

In this IAB post ‘Rules Rules Rules‘, from August 2011, five months after the ASA remit extension – I made the following argument:


“If we … think about the combined worlds of brand, celebrity and sport personality, for example – how do these new standards play out?

Case in point: Tiger Woods and Nike.

When we see Mr Woods teeing up at the PGA Tour, do we question that the Nike cap he chooses to wear is there for any other reason than advertising? No. Of course not. It’s an expectation. Something that we, as the viewing public, have grown to accept within this particular industry. It’s a given that this happens. However, it’s also assumed that – given his high profile nature – that this sponsorship must have happened. Why else would he be wearing the logo? And of course, there is no doubt that Nike put out a press release when this sponsorship was made – but how long ago was that? Tapping the word ‘ad’ on the tail of everything [paid for] that we publish is kind of silly really.”


Swap Tiger Woods for Wayne Rooney and we’re pretty much in line with what has happened here.

While I, as a social media practitioner and professional, wholly endorse legislation to correctly monitor and police this nascent marketing channel, I find it hard to not at least side slightly with Nike with their defence of:

‘…both players were well-known for being sponsored by the retailer which argued that Twitter “followers” would not be misled about the relationship it had with the players.’

The ASA’s sticking point?

‘It was understood from its investigation that the final content of the tweets was “agreed with the help of a member of the Nike marketing team“.’

It’s important to acknowledge this key point: Nike had a say in what was written by their sponsored sportsman. If they didn’t, then it wouldn’t be an issue, (right?).

Placing that aside

Everything that’s been written about social media has defined how different it is from the rest of the media types that have come before it; it changes the game.

The Snickers case [item 5], was found to be not in breach of the new remit. Nike, was. To say this is still very much a grey area would be an understatement and, as a result, the industry needs smarter, more fluid, regulations accordingly.

While HONESTY will always be your best marketing tool (thank you, Nicole), when one side thinks it was being true and the other thinks it wasn’t, an adult conversation needs to be had about consumer-wide understanding and acceptance of what sponsorship means.

And moreover, just how exactly celebrity sponsorship works together with social media.



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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

10 thoughts on “Nike, Twitter, and the ASA: new rules are required”

  1. I think it’s the difference between active and passive promotion.

    No one bats an eyelid at Tiger Woods displaying a logo on his shirt. But how would you feel if, after sinking a hole-in-one, he turned to the camera and said
    “…And I owe it all to the new cherry flavoured PowerJuice. PowerJuice; it’s zzzzzinglicious.”

    There are two issues here
    1) Is it distasteful?
    2) Is it deceptive?

    The first is a cultural question – TV shows used to actually have the host give “a word from our sponsors” directly to the camera. That’s something we’ll have to get used to again.

    Secondly, does Tiger Woods drink PowerJuice? Does it enhance his performance? Does Rooney have a resolution? Is he a champion because of Nike?
    Even if the answer to the above is “yes” there still needs to be a way to show that it is not an objective opinion, but rather is a promotion.

    In the case of Twitter, there are a couple of ways to do this. A standard hashtag or symbol could work. As could sending the tweet via an app which displayed its name as “Paid promotion by X”.
    Perhaps the easiest and most honest solution would be to create an account like “@Rooney_NIKE” which only has sponsored tweets – which the main account could then retweet.


    James Reply:

    I like that active/passive distinction, however, does that not also throw up questions about what kinds of advertising are active vs passive? Who decides?

    Regarding Twitter, you are 100% correct and certain trade associations (including the IAB and their Social Media Council, as well as the ASA themselves) have made the recommendation that ‘#ad’ be used in this instance. While it isn’t a ‘standard’ as yet, it is something that the industry as a whole is leaning towards both for its clarity, and brevity.

    Finally, I really like that app idea. In fear of yet another ‘whatley-blog-post-transformed-into-an-app-by-terence’, I think you might be onto something…

  2. Utterly concur with the good Mr Eden.

    Just because there is a past convention (sponsored famous persons endorsing brands by association) that should never be the basis of an argument like this. I can think of one direct metaphor off the top of my head – regulation about a new tobacco-like drug should not be influenced by existing regulation about tobacco.

    Also, there is a difference between ‘endorsement by association’ and actually ‘voicing’ an endorsement without acknowledging that the endorser has been paid to do it.

    And on the past convention you state here, I’d personally be happier if the Nike logo on Mr Rooney’s chest was obliged to be preceded with ‘Sponsored by’*. Actually, I’d be ecstatic if it had to be ‘This massively overpaid twat sponsored by…’, but I’d accept the less explicit option 🙂

    Anyway, in other business, how are you doing mate?

    James Reply:

    ‘massively overpaid twat’ – yep, can totally see that catching on 😉

    Great to both hear from and get blog commentary from you, sir. How are things in Eastern lands?

    Allix Reply:

    Whatever happened to the ideal of ‘truth in advertising’? 🙂

    ‘things in Eastern lands’ are good. Bangkok is an awesome place to live. Come out and see – we’ve got a spare room 🙂

  3. “It’s important to acknowledge this key point: Nike had a say in what was written by their sponsored sportsman.”

    That is where everything hinges upon:

    If the wording comes directly from the sponsee, even with a bit of “editing” to tidy things up by whoever types it in for them (does Wayne Rooney really post on Twitter?), then it’s an endorsement by them even if it’s about a paid sponsor.

    If the wording is worked upon by the sponsor (even if “inspired” by something the sponsee said), because they want to convey a particular message or evoke certain imagery, then it is an advert and should be marked as such.

    Keep those two separated and you should avoid trouble with the powers that be.

  4. Definitely an interesting topic – this type of thing lays directly into my job on occasion, as well. We’ve got a handful of celebrities/sports folk that tweet about RadioShack periodically. Sometimes, they just do it on their own. Other times, we’ve sent them the full tweet, and within that situation, sometimes they tweet verbatim, other times they tweak it a bit (it’s also interesting to see *who* edits/just tweets, but that’s a whole other thing).

    A great example of this is the riders on RadioShack-Nissan-Trek. Obviously they’ve got sponsorship obligations – they’re on the stinkin team, so it’s pretty top-of-mind for their fans.

    James Reply:


    When your ‘celebrities/sports folk’ RadioShack, do they have to disclose that they are being paid to do so? ie: with the hashtag ‘#ad’?

  5. Social media may or may not be different – marketing via social media most definitely is not. The same regulations have to apply.

  6. I realise that what I see on TV is sometimes advertising. But long ago a talk board was just direct txt from people, some with strange opinions but honestly held as far as I could tell.

    Facebook has gone as a trusted source, LinkedIn on its way. If these places are stuffed with sponsored content they will cease to have any persuasive effect.

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