But in case you haven’t, part of it saw the producers set up an undercover ‘sting’, namely a fake event offering freebies of bracelets, tonics, creams and other products to soap stars at a special gifting retreat – in exchange for tweet endorsements.
No one wants to see consumers being hoodwinked, of course. But brands encouraging celebrities to be seen with or use their products is nothing new. Whether it’s David Beckham advertising H&M underwear on billboard ads, or former Guns N Roses axeman Slash only ever playing Gibson Les Paul guitars, celebrity endorsements are the Holy Grail of brand marketing.
And, over the past couple of years, social media channels have widened this field further. The problem is that, unless all parties involved are very transparent, it is much more difficult for consumers to judge whether a celebrity is genuinely endorsing a product that they like – or whether they are actually being paid (either in cash or in products) to Tweet.
The Advertising Standards Authority states that celebrities endorsing a product should use the #ad or #spon, to provide that transparency. And most brands will, of course, behave responsibly and ethically in this respect.
But, unlike ‘above the line’ endorsements, it’s difficult for those brands to police the individuals on Twitter.
Which is why it must have been incredibly frustrating for Bananagrams to be caught up in the Channel 4 expose. The firm has a healthy social media presence (@bananagrams_uk has over 1,700 Twitter followers which it engages with on a daily basis). Crucially, it has always been transparent in its dealings on social media.
Bananagrams’ official statement to Dispatches read: "Bananagrams is a small family-run business which prides itself on being open and honest. Bananagrams was approached by Dynasty/Rhino to take part in a gifting event they were organising as one of a series of such ‘retreats’. Bananagrams has had no prior experience of such events. We also had no direct contact or communication with the attendees before it took place. Because of this, it did not occur to us that we might have responsibility for dealing with any legalities associated with attendees’ tweets around the event. We are currently reviewing our social media marketing activity and policies and adjusting accordingly."
Social media is an incredibly important part of today’s marketing mix – the traction that a small brand can achieve via Twitter or Facebook simply by word of mouth among consumers is worth an absolute fortune. Real value can be achieved here.
But clearly there are pitfalls in this still relatively new promotional discipline.
It’s been a difficult few weeks for Bananagrams (the news about the Coronation Street actors being involved in these practices originally hit the tabloids at the beginning of July), but I hope that they – and other small firms like them – continue to use social media.
As an emerging media, there is still a lack of understanding in certain quarters and there are still too many rogue ‘social media gurus’ offering advice, but when used properly it is an incredible tool. Certainly, transparency is key. Avoiding Coronation Street actors for Twitter endorsements may be advisable, too…