Who: Lord Alan Sugar, Stylideas Ltd t/a Stylsmile and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 6 May 2020
Law stated as at: 11 May 2020
A tweet by Lord Alan Sugar mentioning a product by Stylsmile received a complaint alleging that the ad did not make its commercial intent clear, considering that Lord Sugar is a director of the company in question.
The tweet stated, “If you know someone who’s longing for whiter teeth, this is the perfect xmas gift for them. For more details and to buy go to https://stylsmile.co.uk/collections/frontpage/products/lighten-up‘.”
A further tweet by Stylsmile UK promoting the ‘STYLSMILE Teeth Whitening Toothbrush Kit’ was also embedded in Lord Sugar’s tweet. Stylesmile UK is a business run by a winner of TV show The Apprentice and Lord Sugar, in which Lord Sugar is a 50% partner.
The ASA upheld the complaint, finding the tweet an infringement of Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code rules 2.1 and 2.3. Under CAP Code 2.1, marketing communications “must be obviously identifiable as such“. Under CAP Code 2.3, marketing communications may not “falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer” and must make their commercial purpose clear if this is not evident from the context.
The ASA considered the tweet to be a marketing communication because Lord Sugar had a commercial relationship with the brand (as a director and partner of Stylideas Ltd), and the tweet linked both to a further product tweet by Stylsmile UK and to a means of purchasing the product. The ASA did not agree with Lord Sugar or Stylsmile that Lord Sugar’s involvement in Stylsmile was a well-known fact due to having featured on a prime-time TV show.
Stylsmile also argued that Lord Sugar is known to post about his businesses on social media. While agreeing that Lord Sugar is a well-known investor, the ASA found that it was “not immediately clear to all consumers that he had a commercial interest in Stylsmile UK from the tweet itself“. As a result, the tweet’s commercial intent was not made clear, and it was not obviously identifiable as marketing.
Why this matters:
This ruling is another reminder of the importance of erring on the side of caution in promotional messages: adverts must make immediately clear that they are marketing communications, regardless of how short the text is. The ASA recommend including a short identifier on posts, such as “#ad”.
This example also highlights that celebrities or high-profile figures must take care to ensure their posts or tweets are identifiable as adverts and not to assume that this is clear from other publicly available information. If not, promoters risk falling foul of the CAP Code which requires promoters to clearly signpost marketing communications and their commercial intent, and prevents promoters from falsely claiming to be consumers.