The warning follows an announcement from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) that its code for non-broadcast advertising, sales promotion and direct mail is to apply to all marketing messages on companies’ websites and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, from 1 March.
From then on, the Advertising Standards Authority will regulate an area that was previously not under regulatory scrutiny.
Websites will have to comply with rules on misleading adverts and social responsibility, as well as codes governing the protection of children.
Nick Johnson, head of sponsorship and advertising law at Osborne Clarke, says that brand owners need to be “additionally cautious”.
“Some advertisers have previously taken a more relaxed view so internal auditing will be necessary,” he says.
Andrew Terry, associate and brand protection expert at law firm Eversheds, says companies will need to “cleanse” their websites to make sure they comply, paying particular attention to the potential “minefield” of old content posted years ago.
“Companies need to apply the same rigour to their own websites than they would any other marketing campaign,” he adds.
Terry adds that a new sanction, which states that the ASA could put its own ads online highlighting an advertiser’s continued non-compliance, is an “innovative” punishment that could prove to be “quite devastating” for the companies in question.
Until now, the ASA’s online remit and CAP’s codes have covered only paid-for marketing communications such as pop-up and banner ads, paid search and viral ads. The watchdog has set a six-month “period of grace” in which it will “conduct training work” to raise awareness and educate business.