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.