Vodafone rapped for failing to ensure paid Instagram collaboration was identified as an ad

The ASA found that Vodafone used Wimbledon tickets to pay a popular reality TV personality for sponsored posts but failed to ensure they were identified as marketing communications.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against Vodafone for failing to clearly identify a paid for social media post as marketing communications.

TV personality Alexandra (Binky) Felstead added a series of Instagram stories and a separate post to the app on 3 July 2022 while enjoying a day out at Wimbledon courtesy of Vodafone.

The Instagram post included three images of Felstead and another individual posing with the Vodafone logo clearly recognisable and it was captioned “Tennis colours and a lovely day out with this one” and “Thank you @Vodafone UK for being such incredible hosts #feel the connection”.

The Instagram stories contained an additional two images; one taken inside the Vodafone lounge bar at Wimbledon with a bartender adorning a Vodafone-themed apron pouring a drink. The other image was sharing Felstead’s above post.

The case against Vodafone

The case against Vodafone was based on Felstead failing to clearly identify her posts as marketing communications by not including #ad within the captions.

Vodafone had supplied Felstead with free tickets to Wimbledon and admittance to its hospitality suite as a guest. The ASA received details of the communications between Vodafone and Felstead’s agent regarding provision of the tickets.

The communication revealed a PDF that was sent to all of Vodafone’s guests encouraging them to to share their Wimbledon experience by uploading stories and photos throughout the day tagging @VodafoneUK and using the hashtag #FeelTheConnection on Instagram.

Vodafone argued that since there was no contractual agreement with Felstead, she was under no obligation to post throughout the day and that as Vodafone itself had no editorial control over the content of the posts, there was no breach of the CAP Code.

What constitutes payment?

However, the ASA found that while there was no commercial agreement between Vodafone and Felstead, “we considered that the provision of the free tickets constituted a payment to her”.

Although there had been no explicit direction about what to share on social media or final approval requirements, “the pre-visit communication from the Head of Social Media at Vodafone stated, ‘Please do share your Wimbledon experience by uploading stories and photos throughout the day, tagging @VodafoneUK and using the hashtag #FeelTheConnection on Instagram’”.

The ASA considered those requests amounted to sufficient instruction and ultimately, “a level of editorial control” over the posts and as the posts were deemed to be marketing communications they were required to meet the CAP Code’s standards for identification.

The ASA informed Vodafone and Felstead that the posts can no longer appear on social media in their current form and “to ensure that their future ads were obviously identifiable as marketing communications, and that identifiers such as ‘#ad’ were used and were clearly and prominently displayed”.