The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the UK government body that enforces market regulations on behalf of consumers, warned marketers that undisclosed advertisements on Twitter will be treated just like undisclosed ads on TV and in newspapers – potentially landing them in hot water with regulators.
The Guardian reports that the OFT has warned one UK agency about purchasing a tweet to use to promote one of its client’s business.
The owner of the offending company, Handpicked Media, says that she posted a single tweet earlier this year and failed to indicate that it was sponsored.
The UK is working to transition internet regulatory power to the Advertising Standards Authority in March 2011, and this move by the OTC will help to strengthen the authority of that body when it comes into power.
The OFT says that not disclosing promoted material is deceptive for consumers:
“In taking this enforcement action the OFT has confirmed its view that online advertising and marketing practices that do not disclose they include paid-for promotions are deceptive under fair trading laws. This includes comments about services and products on website blogs and microblogs such as Twitter.”
While regulations are not quite as strict in the US, there have been several state-specific initiatives to treat tweets and online advertising by political candidates as they do mail or TV ads, requiring them to fully disclose the fact that the tweet in question is sponsored.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how regulators deal with official Promoted Tweets as well as “unofficial” advertising on Twitter.