A CAP on your Marketing- regulation increases on UK webspace.

December 16, 2010

The chances are you are aware that you can’t make unprovable claims about your product or service in advertising and marketing communications, or that you can’t cause general offence.
If you sell products such alcohol, medicine or children’s toys, you are probably also aware of particular rules governing their promotion. These are all outlined in the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code.
Until now, certain areas of internet marketing have remained off-limits to the Code. Non-paid-for content on company websites and blogs and on social media such as Twitter or Facebook, and on company blogs, has been a free-for-all.
From March 2011, however, these free spaces will fall within the ASA’s realm, where paid-for promotion such as banner ads and pay-per-click advertising already resides. The change makes UK webspace one of the most regulated online zones in the world.

What the ASA can do
Anyone can complain to the ASA about promotional content, even a throwaway remark on Twitter. If the ASA finds a company in breach of the Code, it can impose a variety of sanctions. These start with a simple request to amend or remove the offending content, but the advertising standards body can also block a business’ online sales channels or damage its reputation.
“Sanctions will include the removal of paid-for search advertising – ie ads that link to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication,” explains the ASA’s Matt Wilson. “We have the search engines’ buy-in on this. We also have ASA paid-for search ads, so we can put our own ads online to highlight an advertiser’s non-compliance”.

What counts as marketing?
The distinction between what is marketing and what is editorial is inevitably blurred. For example, the rules do not cover journalistic and editorial content related to causes and ideas.

So what actually changes?
In reality, the impact of the extension is likely to be small. More than 30 million adults access the internet almost every day in the UK; yet in the last two years, the ASA has received just 4,500 complaints relating to internet content.
So why bother about something that is unlikely to have a direct impact on your business? Susie Fraser of marketing agency Incentive Media has one answer. There is a reputation benefit, she says, in treating all your online communication as if it falls under the terms of the CAP Code.
“Incorporating these rules will make you think about what you are blogging or tweeting,” she stresses. “A rambling tweet just makes you look disorganised. I think we’ll see a more thought-through, direct and effective approach.”

Getting to know the Code
The extension to the Code has not been well publicised. Business Thinking regional finalist Joe Morrison of Hagans Leisure, which runs holidays parks across Northern Ireland and the north west of England says “We’re vaguely aware of the changes but don’t know the details but it is very current with us, as we have plans online – we’re in the process or redesigning our website and we’ve started a Facebook page, so the changes will affect us”

Next steps
• The CAP website has information, advice and guidance for businesses
• See the latest adjudications on the ASA website


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