Indirect and Subliminal Advertisements on Social Media.

The advertising market is undergoing a major change and indirect - subliminal advertisements promoted through online and social networks are becoming more and more common.

Indirect advertising is a clear and explicit message that appears on unusual spaces, but not mentioned as such. Subliminal advertising, instead, isn’t evident. This practice is banned by Italian law but only with respect to TV advertising and although film and television are a fertile ground for this kind of promotion, new challenges have emerged above all on social networks. Indeed, as the world wide web represents a new opportunity to express our thoughts and interests and tastes and a new way of learning and sharing information and content, companies have also begun to use them in an explicit or tacit manner.
On the one hand, we have real advertising spots and sponsorships, although not fully controlled: Facebook and Instagram, for example, check that ads don’t have an illegal content or prohibited by rules but they don’t control the accuracy of the information communicated, nor their congruity with the regulation, since there is no discipline code to be respected.

On the other hand we notice serious “product placement” proliferation within the most clicked profiles.

In this regard, the British Competition and Markets Authority stood up against disguised advertising, which is not recognizable in photos and videos posted on social media. Recently also the American Federal Trade Commission, for the first time addressed the issue, asking “web influencers” to emphasize that hidden  recognizable through hashtags or comments.

However, there are no specific rules governing indirect and subliminal and the terms of use of social media like Instagram, provide and restriction. The question arises as to whether consumers, who shall not be subject to untruthful and deceptive ads, have also the right to distinguish the advertising contents from a “lifestyle tips”.

Recently, the Italian National Consumer Union has questioned the Competition and Market Authority (AGCM) to ask for the legitimacy of indirect and subliminal advertising on social networks. The legal basis for this controversy is the article 22 of the Consumer Code which asserts that the commercial intent must be explicitly stated if it is not obvious from the context or if it is capable of misleading the consumer.

The AGCM should soon clarify the issue and provide adequate information both on the relationships between producer and influencer, and on the obligation to declare the advertising purpose of the posts.

Meanwhile, Instagram has launched a new tag, "Paid Partnership with", so that users can include it in their stories and post. Alternatively, many bloggers, including the most famous Chiara Ferragni, have started using some "claim-hashtags" such as #ad, #advertisement, or #advertising to highlight the commercial purpose of their photo, protecting the consumer.
 

The use of Twitter Hashtags and the CIO's trademark rights.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has been trying to prevent companies that aren’t official sponsors of the Games from using “official” Twitter hashtags such as #TeamUSA and #Rio2016.

Over the last few weeks, the USOC has sent letters to companies that sponsor athletes but don’t have a commercial relationship with the USOC or the International Olympic Committee, warning them against stealing intellectual property.

One of these letters, written by USOC, states: “Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

The mean-spirited approach is designed to protect sponsors – such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s, GE, P&G, Visa and Samsung – who fork out for marketing presence at the event.

It’s been possible to trademark hashtags in the US since 2013 but the application of trademark law to those tweeting hashtags may be wrong.  Indeed trademark infringement occurs when another party uses a trademark and confuses the public as to the source of a product or service that’s being used in commerce. That’s not what happens when you use a hashtag because you may not be selling a product or service, but just making statements on an open forum. How else do you indicate you are talking about the Rio 2016 Olympics without saying #Rio2016?