ASA Powers extended to Websites and Online Promotions
From 1st March 2011 the Advertising Standards Authority’s powers will be extended to policing company websites and other marketing communications through non-paid for online space such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Companies using these forms of communication will have to comply with the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing known as the CAP Code. This will bring marketing activity on a company’s own space into line with paid online advertising, advertisements in magazines and on billboards etc. This has come about after a considerable number of complaints, said to be 4,500 since 2008, were made to the ASA about websites which the ASA was unable to address because company websites were outside its remit. Most of these complaints related to misleading claims but others raised issues relating to the protection of children and other vulnerable people.
It is certainly logical that the regulation of all forms of commercial communication should be subject to the same rules and having a single point of contact for all complaints will make it easier for consumers to raise their concerns and for consistent action to be taken.
Not all web content of course will be subject to these advertising rules. The CAP code already excludes a number of areas such as press releases, editorial content and corporate reports and the new rules will extend the exclusion is to additionally cover investor relations and more controversially “heritage advertising”. The latter exclusion is being included as it is thought that old campaigns may have value as social history and websites have the facility to place such material in an appropriate context. Nonetheless it is clear that the ASA will be on the lookout for those that seek to use such historical campaigns in a manner contrary to the spirit of the CAP code.
Sites should be compliant by 1st March and companies should be careful to put in place appropriate protocols to ensure that staff engaged in social media on behalf of the company are well versed in the new rules.
More information on the new rules and assistance with staff training may be found at www.cap.org.uk.