Code must reflect sophistication of online media

Children must be protected from certain types of advertising, but the CAP Code does not provide the best framework for managing marketing communications online.

Its scope means that a billboard in Piccadilly Circus is treated the same as an Xbox Live experience or a Hotmail campaign. I don’t need to tell readers how treatments are created and tailored depending on the media and its relationship with audiences. So how is online? How should a common code of practice support this in a way that reflects its sophistication?

There are elements of the online experience that are closer to broadcast, in terms of content, channel selection and scheduling strategy. Like broadcasters, we can restrict content to appropriate audiences. So, why are we now penalised, in revenue terms, by adhering to a code that advocates a blanket ban on certain brands and creative executions? We can now go much further than broadcasters by targeting specific demographic profiles based on a richer understanding of individual users. MSN already knows much more about its 456 million users than broadcasters do about their viewers.

Tools such as the Windows Live ID has become ubiquitous and allows filtering of content based on who you are, your age, interests and where you last visited. From a targeting point of view, this is good news, but, for brands eager to engage responsibly, it will provide an added level of reassurance when developing bespoke campaigns. Any code of practice must reflect these tools and anticipate further innovation.

Defining “online media” and a code of practice is difficult, but that shouldn’t stop us. We must educate those looking to our sector about the richness of what we do and our relationship with our audiences. Consistency and clarity about our working practices are key for brands, agencies and policy-makers. This can only be achieved collaboratively, so we are working closely with the sector, and bodies such as the IAB, to ensure that models of best practice accurately reflect the medium and do not hinder the development of the pioneering UK market.

Sharon Baylay, Microsoft

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