In March this year I gave a talk at Brighton SEO on the The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) new extended remit that now covers all advertisers’ own marketing communications on their own websites and in other non-paid-for space online under their control. The ASA’s digital remit will now cover marketing messages on all websites, blogs and social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are the UK’s independent watchdog committed to maintaining high standards in advertising. They are self regulated and funded by the advertising industry who are required to contribute 0.1% of their media spend to regulating the advertising industry. The ASA’s authority is recognised by the Government, the courts, other regulators such as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Office of Communications (Ofcom) as the established means of consumer protection from misleading advertising.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) are the body responsible for writing the CAP Code which is governed by the ASA. Their purpose is to ensure the industry remained honest, truthful and within legal guidelines. Basically, to ensure that what you see is what you get.
Unbelievably, until March the 1st the digital remit only covered paid for advertising such as E-mail marketing , banner and pop-up advertisements, PPC, commercial classified advertisements and paid-for listings on price comparison sites so out side of these paid for adverts online marketing was entirely unregulated and advertisies could get away with saying what they liked. The new rules will effect all businesses no matter what the size or nature.
What are the benefits?
Firstly, the new rules should go at least someway to ensuring what we see online is what we get a reducing the amount of outright dishonesting in marketing messages. It will also be effective in making online marketing an more equal playing feild as currently ethical marketer could be losing out to competiors who sound amazing and lure in unsuspecting clients with far cheaper prices which are not anywahere near the truth! The good that about the guidlines is that if you are aware of a competitor doing this you can report them and they will have to be open and truthful about their prices and services.
Why has this only just come in to place?
The extended CAP code has come into play this year for a number of reasons. Firstly and probably most significantly as 2010 was the 1st time online advertising spending in the UK exceeded TV yet this was largely untracked. Unsuprisingly, the internet is now the second most complained about medium after TV. In the last 2 years, Over 3500 complaints regarding websites that fell outside of remit. For these reasons, even the Conservative Party pledged to ‘Tackle currently unregulated marketing on corporate websites targeted at children’ and ‘to shut this regulatory loophole and clamp down on irresponsible online marketing targeted at children’.
The ASA gave advertisiers a 6month grace period from September to get to grips with what the new rules mean to them and have been offering online site audits to marketers who are unsure (these do cost a hefty £8k so it is probably worth learning it yourself!) To fund the new remit, the industry has agreed to apply the standard 0.1% levy on paid-for advertisements appearing on internet search engines through media and search agencies. This has been spent on an advertising campiagn including TV ads (click to watch here )and posters around stations and on bill boards (I am still yet to see an actual Ad myself though??)
The Official line from CAP….
“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.”
So what does all this actually mean and how will it affect me?
There are now a number of things that you will need to be careful of when considering your marketing activity:
1. Watch out for claims you cant back up.
In theory everyone should have been doing this anyway! But you must now substantiate not just everything you say or write on your site, social media platform or blog, but also everything everyone else does too.
“3.18 … Quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, etc.”
“3.7 … must hold evidence for any claims that consumers are likely to believe are objective“
“3.17 … price statements must not mislead by ommission and relate to product listed“
“3.9 … not stating significant limitations or qualifications”
2. Social media and User generate content
For the first time, Social media platforms fall uder the remit as “ Non Paid for Space under Advertisers control” something that will undoubtedly effect they way we think about our social media strategies.The biggest challenges for marketers regarding social is with regards to User generated content (UGC) and distance marketing rules.
The first big consideration is using content from your Facebook page, Twitter account , blog or forum for your marketing materials. Previously, you could quite rightfully take positive comments or Tweets and use them for self promotion. This, along with using photos that have been posted by users on Facebook, even if you are tagged in them is no longer allowed.
Another major factor is ensuring evreything you Tweet or post can be substanstanciated at the time you post it. This includes ReTweeting or even liking something a fan has written about you that at the time you engage with that comment is no longer true.
Top Shop for example recently go into trouble for ReTweeting a comment someone made about how great they were and how they had just bought a skirt in the sale. By the time Top Shop ReTweeted the skirt was no longer in the sale so the comment was unsubstansciated.
“Inaccurate or misleading facebook copy that contains a claim written by the advertiser themselves or by the customer and then reused by the advertiser”
3. Distance Selling Marketing
The inclusion of Distance selling marketing communications in the online remit essentially means all promotions, Tweets and comments about a product must include:
9.2.1 the main characteristics of the product
9.2.2 the price, including any VAT or other taxes payable (see “Prices” in Section 3: Misleading Advertising, and payment arrangements
9.2.3 the amount of any delivery charge
9.2.4 the estimated delivery or performance time (see rule 4.9.3) and arrangements
9.2.5 a statement that, unless inapplicable (see rule 9.6), consumers have the right to cancel orders for products. Marketers of services must explain how the right to cancel may be affected if the consumer agrees to services beginning less than 7 working days after the contract was concluded.
This is virtually impossible to do in 140 characters and so could essentaily change the way we use Twitter and Facebook for promotions. However it is still very unclear how strictly this will be enforced.
The ASA have stated the following will be the procedure for dealing with complaints of advertisers acting outside of the code:
Informal warning at first asked to withdraw Ad
Should an advertiser refuse to do so, there will be no immediate fines but a referral to office of fair trade.
There will be no active policing – Someone will have to make a complaint for them to look into.
Like every set of new regulations, advertisers and agencies will have to wait for the first companies to be rapped on the knuckles.
My next blog post will look into whether or not the ASA have acted on their threats and whether anyone has been caught….