On Saturday, the print edition of the New York Times carried a full-page ad for the movie Inside Llewyn Davis with a single tweet by A.O. Scott, a film critic for the newspaper.
While he tweeted the words of praise for the film's soundtrack, the version of the tweet quoted by the movie's studio, CBS Films, while mocked up to look like a real tweet, actually omitted his first sentence, which mentioned competing movies The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle.
As a publicity stunt, it worked: Even Scott himself marveled at the idea that a tweet could become an ad, as did many others.
we have reached a strange new place in marketing when tweets become full-page print ads.— a. o. scott (@aoscott) January 4, 2014
CBS Films publicist Grey Munford did not respond to a request for comment from ReadWrite, but he seemed aware of the controversy: On Twitter, he retweeted a couple of tweets about the controversy and Scott's reaction.
Scott, asked if he gave permission for the tweet's use, was cryptic: "Kind of."
Is It Legal?
While movie studios have a long history of stretching the truth with movie reviewers' quotes in ads, that's largely been an arena where disputes are resolved quietly between the critics and the studios involved—who, after all, need each other.
The inclusion of Twitter, which has long asserted that its users have rights over the content they broadcast on the service, appears to change the equation.
CBS Films' use of the partial tweet—if, as it seems, it came without Scott's full permission, seems to be a straightforward violation of Twitter's rules about the use of tweets in ads:
In all cases, without explicit permission of the original content creator, Twitter content may not be used
• in advertising
• to imply endorsement of any product or service.
Use the full text of the Tweet. You may edit or revise Tweet text only as necessary due to technical or medium limitations (e.g., removing hyperlinks).
That's not all: The Federal Trade Commission also forbids the "alteration" of such material when used in advertisements, though it's arguable whether the omission of Scott's mention of the other movies violated his intent.
Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Twitter, said the company did not comment on individual violations of its policies. But Twitter has noted its policy about requiring permission in past incidents—like when apartment-hunting app Lovely featured technology reporter Alex Wilhelm's tweet in printed fliers.
In other cases, advertisers have sought permission and even paid Twitter users to include their tweets in advertisements. Tom Biro noted a Pop Secret ad which used his tweet complaining about the smell of burnt popcorn; he said the agency involved paid him for its use. (Twitter's guidelines require permission, not payment, though some advertisers might offer payment to gain a user's agreement.)
Even Twitter itself has gotten in trouble for misusing tweets in promotional materials: In a blog post about its advertising offerings, it invented fake tweets under real users' names last year, was caught, and apologized.
Could CBS have avoided trouble by merely paying to promote A.O. Scott's tweet on Twitter? No, it turns out. A Twitter advertiser may not use your tweet in an ad without your permission, even on Twitter:
Do not include another person’s content in Twitter Ads without the person’s permission. Create your own Tweets, or get permission from the authors of the Tweets and Retweets you use.
That only applies to paid ads, of course. The studio could freely have retweeted Scott's tweet, as it has done for many other positive mentions of the film.
It seems unlikely that the studio will face any backlash over the ad. Scott—who liked the film, after all—seems more bemused than upset, and may have given the studio some type of permission, even if he was surprised by the result. And Twitter is courting the same movie studios who place ads like this in the New York Times to buy ads on Twitter, too.
But it's worth pointing out that according to the rules, your tweet can't become an ad without your permission.
Still via CBS Films