CARLTON and United Breweries will employ tighter scrutiny of its social media pages after the Advertising Standards Bureau found the VB Facebook page had breached alcohol advertising guidelines.
In a decision that will have ramifications for companies using social media in marketing campaigns, the ASB found all content within a Facebook page, including user comments, constituted advertising.
It therefore found CUB's VB Facebook page, which contained a number of offensive comments left by users, had breached three sections of the Advertiser Code of Ethics.
"The board noted that social media is an advertising platform that requires monitoring to ensure that offensive material is removed within a reasonable timeframe and that content with a Facebook page should, like all other advertisement and marketing communication, be assess with the code in mind," the ASB's report read.
The board acknowledged advertisers faced a challenge to effectively monitor social media to ensure offensive material was removed promptly.
VB had asked its fans what the essential ingredients were for a good barbecue.
The ASB found some of replies breached the code in that they were discriminatory towards women and homosexuals; did not treat matters of a sexual nature with sensitivity, and; contained obscene language.
Board members were split on whether the Facebook page promoted the excessive consumption of alcohol.
In the end a majority found it did not.
In its wide-ranging response to the complaint, CUB had argued user comments on a Facebook page should not be considered advertising as they were not material "over which (CUB) has a reasonable degree of control".
"It would be unduly onerous on ... any company participating in this medium to interpret the code as including user comments on Facebook pages as falling within the scope of advertising or marketing communications," the company wrote in reply to the complaint.
Companies are increasingly using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for marketing campaigns.
It allows them to engage directly with consumers, and is a far cheaper form of marketing than traditional forms of media.
CUB had argued if the complaint was upheld it would have to either scrap its Facebook pages, which it said was "commercially unsustainable" in the current marketing climate, or review every user comment.
It had argued this would be "contrary to the spirit of social media", and would require staff to moderate comments 24 hours a day.
This, it said, would result in "an unreasonably high level of resourcing by the producer".
But in its response to the ASB's findings, CUB said it had taken a number of steps to avoid future breaches, including: monitoring user comments twice a day, including the removal of inappropriate material; broader language filters; age restrictions, and; a best practice document.
It said work was also under way to adopt a better suited approach to social media in relation to the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code.
CUB also acknowledged some of the comments on the VB page were "clearly inappropriate".
"And we are disappointed that they were not removed through the review process we had in place," it wrote.
A complaint alleging Smirnoff's Facebook page had breached the code was dismissed.
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