After three years of debate behind closed doors the Committee of Advertising Practice has reached a ground-breaking agreement on new advertising rules. In particular the newly published regulations take the chance to look at the way businesses operate their marketing strategies online.
The new rules contain some significant changes including enhanced protections for consumers, tighter rules to protect children, a new social responsibility rule and the creation of a dedicated section on the environment in a single Broadcast Code for TV and Radio.
In digital terms, the new regime extends to other non-paid-for space under advertisers' control on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. This extension of the ASA/CAP Code remit is long overdue and undoubtedly a major and probably world-leading achievement by all concerned. The new sanctions are imaginative and a smart approach to the challenge of policing in the online world.
It applies to marketing communications 'directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services' etc, the promotion of causes or ideas and 'Non-paid-for space online under the advertiser's control'.
The drafting of the new remit is to focus specifically upon material which can be properly accepted as constituting an advertisement or other marketing communication. Conformity with the CAP Code is, as always, assessed according to the marketing communication's probable impact when taken as a whole and in context.
It's predicted that regardless of the reasonably clear remit statement, the boundaries between online marketing communications and editorial are likely to raise debate over key issues; At what point brand owners can be said to have "control" over user generated content on social media; When does a marketing communication cease to be "directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods" and Will it apply just to websites "operating from the UK", Will it extend for instance to sites ending "co.uk" and clearly aimed at UK consumers but operating from another country?
Sanctions for breaching the Code will include "naming and shaming" repeat offenders in ASA paid-for search ads and with the help of search engines, removing paid-for search ads that linked to the page hosting the offending content.
Such seismic changes, impacting all UK businesses and all UK consumers, would ordinarily have been put out in draft for stakeholder consultation before being finalised.
Experts at law firm Osborne Clark believe that this process would have avoided situations such as that cited above, where a glaring omission from the original paper is "clarified" by further guidance issued just a day later. Already marketers looking to find out where the goalposts are situated will have to look at two different documents.
After this length of time, the priority should be to develop a regime that is robust from the start and free from major flaws of the kind consolations will flush out.
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