Online comms come under regulatory scrutiny

The ASA expansion of the CAP code, which comes into effect today (1 March), will clarify confusion in the industry and help ’legitimise’ social media, according to industry experts.

The expansion of the code now includes a brand’s non-paid for online marketing.

Until now, the ASA’s online remit and CAP’s non-broadcast codes have covered only paid-for marketing communications, such as pop-up and banner ads, paid search and viral ads.

The extension was first announced in September last year but has since been met with a degree of uncertainty from with the industry around the regulation of user generated content used for marketing purposes.

The confusion was particularly raised by members of the PR community, which will for the first time have to abide by rules set out by the advertising industry.

An event held by the IAB last Thursday about ’How to stay safe in social’ sparked a debate around the technicalities of enforcing the CAP code on social media as people were alerted to the fact that retweets of customers’ tweets by a brand would also be included within the guidelines.

Amy Kean, director of social media at Havas Media and former IAB social media council head, said, “What this does is ensure that brands aren’t flippant about retweeting. A brand wouldn’t put a customer tweet in a print ad without checking the source and legitimacy.”

“This level of attention isn’t paid to social media communications and now it will be,” she said.

The changes will help the social media industry to ’grow’ up, legitimising it as a safe marketing channel, said others.

Stephen Waddington, managing director of Speed Communications who sits on both the PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) and CIPR councils, said the PR industry had taken initially taken issue with being regulated by the ad industry, but said it would be good for social media in the long term.

“Most of it is reasonable. The founding principles are to be decent, legal and fair to consumers,” said Waddington, “It is legitimising social media; it is such an immature channel, but it will help it to grow up.”

The code now enters a two year period of review, in which the ASA will look at what is and isn’t working every quarter and act accordingly.

The alcohol industry has already had to abide by ASA regulations within the non-paid online marketing space, such as social media, since 2003. Alcohol industry trade body Portman Group said the wider industry is now following its lead in policing user generated marketing.

David Poley, chief executive at the Portman Group, said it has had issues with regulating social networks as some find that it restricts engagement with a younger demographic.

“We have a rule that you cannot use models or actors under 25 in marketing activity, this does raise difficulties in judging whether it is the industry’s responsibility and hinders engagement with the crucial 18-25-year-old audience, but you still need to stick to these guidelines,” said Poley.

In January the ASA launched its first above-the-line marketing campaign in five years to promote the changes. It warns that communication on company websites or social media platforms need to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

The campaign was created by AMV BBDO, while OMD handled media planning/buying. Ads have been delivered through space donated by media owners.

A second, consumer-focused campaign is planned for this month and will appear on TV, radio, cinema, outdoor, online and print.

The ASA’s recommendations for action:

  • Designate someone to be responsible for ensuring your site complies with the rules
  • Sign up to CAP Services and take advantage of all the training and help on offer at
  • Attend or watch webcasts of ASA’s and CAP’s training seminars on the new remit.

The ASA has now also launched a Copy Advice Website where users can see best practise examples and apply to use a paid-for service to have their websites audited, which can be accessed here.

This story first appeared on

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