It’s your website, you can do what you like with it, right? Well, for a long time this has definitely been the case. Essentially anyone could publish anything on their site without fear of recrimination – almost.
It’s been a bone of contention for some time, given that other marketing platforms (particularly TV, radio and print) have been subject to intense regulation, while digital marketers have been given the freedom to do, well, pretty much whatever they want.
Now, in an effort to protect users from falling foul of unscrupulous marketing practices online, the Advertising Standards Agency (with the help of one of the biggest creative agencies in the world AMV BBDO and media buyers OMD) have stepped in to lay down some new rules with an ad campaign.
The campaign (launched on Jan 17) is about raising awareness of ASA’s extended remit and calls on companies to ensure marketing messages on their websites are legal, decent, honest and truthful.
So what does that mean and how do you make sure your site complies with the new directive?
None the wiser? A statement issued last year said the code will apply to:
“Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.”
The official line and three most important parts as far as the scope of the code is concerned are available on CAP’s website:
- It applies to marketing communications ‘directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services’ etc: this phrase conveys the primary intent of marketing communications coming within the extended digital remit: to sell something. It is understood that a marketing communication may set out to sell something in a myriad of different ways. It need not necessarily include a price or seek overtly an immediate or short-term financial transaction or include or otherwise refer to a transactional facility.
- The promotion of causes or ideas: The scope doesn’t cover marketing communications promoting causes or ideas but does explicitly apply to marketing communications which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of fund-raising activities. This takes into account of the potential for consumer detriment, especially financial loss, arising from these marketing communications.
- ‘non-paid-for space online under [the advertiser's] control’: this phrase covers, although not exclusively, advertisements and other marketing communications on advertiser-controlled pages on social networking websites. Social networking websites have a significant consumer reach, are popular with children and young people and play an increasing role in public policy debates.
You might be thinking this is all a little difficult to enforce and be tempted to flout the new regulations. But consider that CAP member bodies have agreed new sanctions as follows:
- Providing details of an advertiser and the non-compliant marketing communication on a special part of the ASA website
- Removal of paid-for search advertising – ads that link to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication may be removed with the agreement of the search engines.
- ASA paid-for search advertisements – the ASA could place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser’s continued non-compliance.
In plain English CAP is essentially saying:
1) Ignore this and you will be named and shamed
2) We’ll tell the likes of Google to pull your ads without warning and you’ll be able to do precious little about it.
3) We’ll make it our business to inform anyone who’s anyone that you broke the rules
How will all this impact on your business?