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ASA digital remit extension: We have the answers

02 September 2010

Internet signFrom 1 March 2011, the ASA’s online digital remit will be extended to cover marketing communications on organisations’ own websites and in other non-paid-for space under their control. Further information about the announcement is available on ASA website.

CAP Services will be providing training and advice to help website owners and agencies get to grips with the new rules between now and 1 March 2011. If you have not signed up for CAP Services, sign up here to receive further information.

Answering your questions

Does this new remit cover marketing communications on sites only?

No. Marketing communications on “.uk” websites will be covered by the new remit.  So will marketing communications on websites for companies that are registered in the UK (companies registered with Companies House), regardless of the top-level domain. 

The new remit covers marketing communications in other non-paid for space online under the marketer’s control (e.g. Facebook), as well as the marketer’s own website.

If the ASA receives complaints about online marketing communications that are subject to regulation by one of our international EASA partners, we will refer it to the relevant authority.  If we receive complaints about marketing communications on websites that do not use a “.uk” address or give a registered address in the UK but seem to target UK consumers, and are not subject to regulation by one of our international partners, the ASA will take what action it can.  

Does this mean the ASA will regulate everything online? 

No, only advertisements and other marketing communications.

So what is a marketing communication falling within the new remit?

It’s what it is and what it isn’t!

What it is: is a type of communication for a good, service, opportunity or gift that primarily sets out to sell something. Of course, marketing communications may set out to sell in a myriad of different ways and may not necessarily include a price or seek an immediate financial transaction. 

What it isn’t: is another type of communication explicitly excluded by the CAP Code, for example: classified private advertisements, press releases and other public relations material, editorial content, political advertisements, corporate reports, investor relations etc.

Does the new remit cover user generated content?

User generated content (UGC) is content provided by private individuals.  It falls within the new remit only if it is adopted and incorporated within an organisation’s own marketing communications on its own website or in other non-paid for space online under the organisation’s control. 

Assessing whether UGC amounts to a marketing communication falling within the new remit must be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking particular account of the context in which it is placed.  For example, the ASA is likely to take a very different view of a consumer’s positive comment that has been posted, by the website owner, in a prominent way on the front page of its website, than if that same comment appeared within the context of a consumer message board moderated for harmful and offensive language or images only.

Will the CAP Code apply in full to the new remit?

Yes and, as always, conformity with the CAP Code is assessed according to the marketing communication’s probable impact when taken as a whole and in context.

Is it an onerous task to comply with the CAP Code?

The CAP Code includes rules that help to ensure marketing communications remain decent, legal, honest and truthful.  It’s not there to catch you out or to unnecessarily curb what you want to say and how you want to say it. 

It simply sets out standards that society has deemed necessary, through a process of consultation, to protect consumers and businesses alike.  To that end, it promotes and preserves organisations’ right to advertise responsibly – and those that do shouldn’t find it burdensome to comply with.

What can I do to ensure my online marketing communications comply?

Website owners and agencies are urged to sign up to CAP Services to hear about the available guidance and training which will help them comply with the new rules before 1 March 2011.

If you have any questions or queries feel free to speak to one of our advisers.

How can you force companies to comply with the new online remit?   

In addition to the ASA’s present sanctions, which already achieve a high level of compliance, CAP member bodies have agreed new sanctions to apply to the extended remit such as:

  • An enhanced name and shame policy - providing details of an advertiser and the non-compliant marketing communication on a special part of the ASA website. 
  • Removal of paid-for search advertising – ads that link to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication may be removed with the agreement of the search engines.
  • ASA paid-for search advertisements - the ASA could place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser’s continued non-compliance.

The primary concern of the regulatory system is not to punish advertisers, but to ensure that all advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. This means that we will offer a range of training and advice services to help advertisers to comply with the rules.

Isn’t this a burden on tax payers at a time when the public sector is scaling back?

The ASA receives no money from the tax payer – it is funded entirely by the advertising industry through a 0.1% on advertising space costs.

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.

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