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Was Mars’ Twitter Marketing Campaign Innovative Or Deceptive?

The candybar maker Mars was under scrutiny for promoting its Snickers bar on Twitter, using celebrity accounts to hype the chocolatey goodness. But a watchdog group has determined that they were free to do so, even though the majority of the tweets did not indicate that they were advertisements.

The general rule of thumb prior to this week’s ruling was that all ads on Twitter sent by a celebrity or other account must be clearly labeled as ads. So if Snickers were to get Lady Gaga to tweet on their behalf, she would have to end the tweet with #ads or #spon for sponsored tweet.

However, a recent Snickers campaign flouted this rule and took Twitter advertising to a new level.

According to AdAge, four celebrities send a series of four out-of-character tweets, none of which indicated they were part of a viral ad campaign for Snickers. The fifth tweet in each series was “You’re not you when you’re hungry #hungry #spon” @snickersuk.”

The out-of-character tweets included a discourse on global economics by supermodel Katie Price and soccer star Rio Ferdinand musing about various knitting techniques.

Consumers groups took the campaign to the UK’s advertising regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority, complaining that the four lead-up tweets were sent as though the celebrity sent them him or herself. They were not marked as ads in any way.

Mars argued that they were not actually ads, since they did not show or mention a product, and thus consumers could have taken no action based on their content.

The ASA ended up siding with Mars, but disagreed with their logic.

They ruled that the four lead-up tweets were actually part of the campaign, labeling them “teasers” which were intended to create interest in the overall campaign and the fifth tweet.

But they also went on to say that the tweets should be taken in their combined entirety, and that the #spon (which is short for “sponsored”) in the fifth tweet was enough.

The campaign itself was pretty creative, but it’s hard to tell just how much impact it had on Snickers overall. The candybar did leverage multiple celebrity accounts, each with millions of followers, but the @SnickersUK account is hovering just under 1,000 – even after the campaign.

Still, this campaign will no doubt pave the way for other creative uses of Twitter in attempted viral marketing, which will hopefully harness the power of social more than ads asking followers to “buy this now!”

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