January 20th, 2011 by Lloyd Gofton
As you will probably be aware, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced it is extending its remit to cover marketing on websites from 1 March 2011, the full announcement can be found here
and an implementation plan here.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as it has been in discussion for some time, and according to The ASA the changes mean, “From 1 March, marketing communications on companies’ own websites and in other third party space under their control, such as Facebook and Twitter, will have to adhere to the non-broadcast advertising rules as set out in the CAP Code.” Cap Code is the Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing.
So what does this mean for brands and agencies? Well, put simply it’s a more stringent enforcement of what has been accepted best practise on issues such as transparency for marketing messages online. More specifically, it will extend the rules relating to misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children, to cover marketing communications on organisations’ own websites and in other non-paid-for space under their control.
Personally, I welcome the move, which will hopefully deter underhand tactics and annoying campaigns that do unfortunately blight our sector, and reinforce confidence and trust in online conversations and brand communications.
It should however be noted that the remit doesn’t extend to classified private advertisements, press releases and other public relations material, editorial content as well as political advertisements, corporate reports, investor relations, although it could be argued that it should. This also leaves a bit of a grey area in defining marketing communications, which surely some of the above are classified under.
You may be thinking, what happens if brands don’t comply? And apparently there is no direct legal response, although the UK already has legislation to cover this area. However, the ASA’s potential response to such an issue was outlined in a recent Register article, as follows:
Where there is a breach of the CAP, the ASA will seek “a written assurance that the problematic claim or image will be removed or amended”. In the rare cases that such does not happen in traditional media, they will “consider the application of appropriate sanctions”.
The article continued: A spokesman told us that the ASA has no legal remedies in such a case. However, where an ad made a misleading claim, they would refer it to the Office of Fair Trading and local Trading Standards. In extreme cases, they would write up the case on their own site, and they had found the negative publicity usually tended to bring the advertiser back into line.
To promote the change, the ASA also launched its first ad campaign in five years on Monday, to raise awareness of its extended remit and to call on companies to ensure marketing messages on their websites are legal, decent, honest and truthful.
For further information, The IAB have developed a handy Q&A to assist brands and agencies to understand the changes. The IAB will also be hosting an event on â€˜How to be Safe in Social Media’ on 24th February, to educate brands and their agencies about the significance of the ASA’s new remit, alongside the wider legal considerations necessary within any UK social media activity.