Ad Standards has found that McDonald’s Australia breached rules for distinguishable advertising, as set out in the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics, Section 2.7.
The breach occurred in an Instagram post by @southaussiewithcosi, which featured a man, woman and two children in matching McDonald’s pyjamas and holding McDelivery bags. Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello, who fronts the Instagram account, is also a co-host of SAFM’s breakfast show on the Hit Network in Adelaide.
The post, which has since been deleted, had the following caption: “Verified @maccas_sa have been serving South Australians for 50 years. How cool is that? Tonight we are celebrating their birthday with delivery and my girls are wearing the @peteralexanderofficial limited edition maccas PJ’s”.
In one of the complaints submitted to Ad Standards’ community panel, it was noted that it was unclear whether it was a sponsored post or not as it did not contain the hashtags #ad or #sponsored.
In McDonald’s initial response, the company argued that the code was not applicable in this case as the products provided were gifts, and there was no formal agreement with @southaussiewithcosi to post on social media.
In its response, McDonald’s said: “McDonald’s has a partnership with SAFM, which is a commercial radio station that broadcasts to Adelaide. McDonald’s gifted the products as a gesture of goodwill and to support SAFM. The talent in question is part of the breakfast radio crew with SAFM and has his own personal brand/TV show called ‘South Aussie with Cosi’. McDonald’s does not have any commercial relationship with “South Aussie with Cosi” or the talent directly. As such the content posted on the account ‘South Aussie with Cosi’ is entirely outside of the McDonald’s reasonable control.”
McDonald’s continued: “Unlike the previous cases that the panel has determined, in the current case it is not reasonable to assume that the motivation to provide free products is that they will post about the products or otherwise draw the attention of their followers to the brand given that McDonald’s does not have any affiliation with ‘South Aussie with Cosi’”.
McDonald’s also highlighted that if the post was found to be advertising, it was distinguishable as another brand is mentioned, the caption refers to McDonald’s delivery service and 50th-anniversary celebrations, and both the products and label on the products are clearly visible.
A majority of the panel found the post did meet the definition of advertising as while the advertiser did not have direct editorial control over the post, “the influencer was motivated to publish positive content about his employer’s sponsor, and in the context of the relationship would not, for example, have posted similarly about a competitor to the employer’s sponsor”.
The panel further found that tagging the brand in the caption was not sufficient to distinguish the post as advertising, as per its Practice Note for the Code. The post needed to be clear, obvious, and upfront as sponsored content.
McDonald’s responded to the finding: “McDonald’s takes its responsibility as an advertiser seriously. We are disappointed with the outcome of the complaint, however, we respect the final decision from the panel. We have communicated with the influencer, and the influencer has agreed to remove the post.”