Back in January we wrote about the Snickers-gate scandal, involving celebrities such as England and Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand being paid by Mars to promote its Snickers chocolate bar.

It was claimed that such an offence contravenes the UK’s Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) guidance that celebrities must make it absolutely clear that they are promoting or endorsing a product. However, the situation has now been given some clarity by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which has dismissed complaints made about the advertising.

Initially, the ASA had said it would only investigate if it received a formal complaint, which it seems it actually did in the end, specifically in relation to Rio Ferdinand and model Katie Price (AKA Jordan).

Earlier today, the ASA reported its verdict on the matter, quoting a number of tweets from Ferdinand:

“Really getting into the knitting!!! Helps me relax after high-pressure world of the Premiership”, “Can’t wait 2 get home from training and finish that cardigan”, “Just popping out 2 get more wool!!!”, “Cardy finished. Now 4 the matching mittens!!!” and “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk#hungry#spon …”.”

And from Price:

““Great news about China’s latest GDP figures!!”, “Chinese leaders are now likely to loosen monetary policy to stimulate growth. Yay!!”, “OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only properly be solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys”, “Large scale quantitative easing in 2012 could distort liquidity of govt. bond market. #justsayin” and “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk #hungry #spon …”.”

The complainant had raised the issue of whether the advertising was “obviously” identifiable as a marketing communication, with Mars contending that the campaign “involved an innovative use of Twitter and it had considered the requirements of the CAP Code in detail before it was launched.”

Mars’ series of Twitter campaigns involved celebrities posting five tweets within the space of an hour. The first four tweets were ‘out-of-character’ messages that built up to the fifth and final one, which was appended with the hashtag #spon, and showed a photograph of them eating a Snickers.

The ASA has found that the combination of the way the tweets were lined up, and then culminated in a message which mentioned @snickersUk and #spon, was enough to make it clear that the the tweets were clearly adverts. It said:

“In that particular context, and given the relevance of the first four tweets to the “You’re not you when you’re hungry …” strap line in the ‘reveal’ tweets, we considered it was acceptable that the first four tweets were not individually labelled as being part of the overall marketing communications. We therefore concluded that the ads did not breach the Code.

We investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.1, 2.3 and 2.4 (Recognition of marketing communications) but did not find them in breach.”

We’re already seeing brand pages rolling out on Twitter, whilst promoted tweets and trends are gaining traction too as Twitter strives to build a proper revenue-generating platform. But as we’ve previously pointed out, Twitter doesn’t get paid when celebrities promote brands in this way.

With the ASA ruling that no further action is necessary, this will pave the way for many more paid-for promoted tweets that bypass Twitter’s coffers altogether, and we wonder if Twitter will step in to get its share of the pie at some point. Either way, you’ll likely be seeing many more celebs take to the Twittersphere to endorse big brand names in 2012, we’re just at the very beginning.