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Advertising watchdog sinks teeth into company websites

11 March 2010

Website owners are being urged to review their online content to make sure it complies with proposed changes to the rules that govern all non-broadcast advertising in the UK.

The warning from regulatory experts at Browne Jacobson follows calls by the Advertising Association to extend the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) remit to cover marketing messages that appear on company websites and “non-paid for space” on the internet.

The Advertising Association is calling for the extension of the CAP Code which regulates all non-broadcast advertising in the UK so that the ASA can clamp down on an area that generated more than 2500 complaints in 2009.

If the recommendation is adopted, the changes could come into effect from September 2010.

Fiona Carter, Corporate Regulation Partner at Browne Jacobson, said:

“With advertising in digital media becoming increasingly dominant in the marketplace, this was an obvious decision to make.

“However it does mean that website owners will now need to review their own websites’ content to ensure that they can prove that they comply with the CAP codes.

“If the ASA upholds complaints of breaches of the CAP Codes, it has the power to recommend that marketing claims or adverts must not be repeated again without amendment.

“This can result in the loss of considerable investment in marketing campaigns. Persistent infringement may result in a referral to the OFT, which could lead to an injunction, prosecution and a fine.”

Key provisions from the Code include:

  • Before publishing a marketing communication, marketers must hold evidence to substantiate the claims, whether direct or implied, that they are making;
  • Marketing communications should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability;
  • Marketers are urged to obtain written permission before referring to or portraying members of the public, referring to people with a public profile, or implying any personal approval of the advertised product;
  • Any stated price should be clear and should relate to the product advertised. Marketers should ensure that prices match the products illustrated;
  • Claims comparing your products to your competitor’s products are only acceptable if they objectively compare products which meet the same needs, and must not be likely to mislead. High profile complaints to the ASA about comparative advertisements have been recently made about the likes of Virgin Media and BT, and Asda and Tesco. With these proposed changes, competitors may start looking at each other’s websites in the hope that they can make a complaint.
  • Special care should be taken when products intended for adults may fall into the hands of children.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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