On 1st March, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) extended its CAP Code to regulate non-paid for online marketing communications. This covers a company’s websites and other websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, where a company’s marketing messages are being communicated. The ASA already has the power to regulate paid-for online advertising such as banner ads, pop-ups and pay-per-click.
Why is this happening?
Over the last three years, the ASA has received over 4,500 complaints about non-paid for advertising. They were unable to act in these cases. A government review last year on the sexualisation of young people highlighted how more and more messages to this group are communicated online but the existing Code could not protect them. The ASA have said that it has the “protection of children and consumers at [its] heart”.
What do the extended regulations now cover?
Any non-paid for marketing communications where a product or service is being promoted, such as the company’s site, are now included. Crucially the marketing messages you send through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are part of these regulations.
Are any websites exempt?
This applies to all UK websites, even if the domain is not .co.uk.
What should I do?
You may want to review your company’s website and non-paid for advertising. The CAP code has been developed “to ensure marketing communications remain legal, decent, honest and truthful.” Ifyour marketing communications reflect this (online and offline) then you have nothing to worry about.
What happens if someone blogs or Twitters about my company and what they say violates the regulations?
The CAP Code calls this “user generated content”. The ASA cannot regulate what people say about your product or service. However, it would be subject to the regulations if you were to use what they have said in your marketing communications.
What will the ASA do if it finds a company in breach of the code?
The ASA will do one or more of the following:
• “Name and shame” the company on the ASA website
• With the co-operation of search engines, remove paid-for advertising links to the page that has the offending marketing message
• Place ads online that brings attention to the company’s non-compliance
Where can I find out more?
Check out the ASA’s Digital remit advice. They are also running seminars and offer a website audit service.
It will be interesting to see in the coming months how the ASA discovers non-compliant sites and messages, and how realistically it can deal with marketing messages going out via social media. Given the thousands of websites in the country and marketing messages thrown at us every day, it is impossible for them to police each one. They will need to rely heavily on the public to complain about adverts and messages they think are misleading.