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Websites - the sky may not be the limit

12 April 2010

Digital Britain aims to get as many people as possible online and increase the overall populations digital skills by 2012.

As the UK moves to becoming one of the worlds leading digital knowledge economies the need to regulate advertising online is ever increasing.

There has been concern for many years that the Advertising Standard Authoritys (ASAs) remit does not cover marketing communications on companies own websites.

At the moment, the ASA is only able to adjudicate on complaints relating to paid for advertising - such as search marketing and display advertising. However, in 2009 alone, over 2,500 complaints made to the ASA about advertising could not be addressed because they related to companies marketing communications on their own websites and other non-paid for space online, such as brand activity on social networking sites.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) are now getting closer to plugging this gap. To date, CAP has struggled to address this issue due to funding constraints. However, funding collection issues were successfully resolved in November 2009 and following a recommendation from the Advertising Association (AA) CAP are now driving forward towards a consultation with the ultimate aim of bringing the new remit into effect as soon as possible. Rather ambitiously, CAP anticipate that its remit will be extended by autumn 2010.

What does this mean for you?

For a prudent brand owner, the extension of the ASAs remit should make no difference. Our Advertising and Marketing team always recommend that a thorough review of a brands website is undertaken prior to launch to ensure that all content on it does not breach the CAP code.

However, whilst to date this has been best practice, once the remit is extended such action will be mandatory.

It is likely that the remit will also extend to brand activity on social networking sites, including blogs. It is therefore likely that brand owners will need to ensure that all its marketing activity is carefully vetted to ensure compliance with the CAP code so that they do not unwittingly fall foul of it.

If the ASA upholds complaints in relation to breaches of the CAP code its primary power is to recommend that marketing claims or adverts are removed or not repeated.

However, as many more brand owners are experiencing, the greatest sting of a negative ASA adjudication is the bad publicity that flows from it. Particularly as many are becoming more savvy in using the bad publicity of its competitors to promote themselves.

We have many years experience in carrying out legal compliance checks of marketing communications including content included on companies own websites and if you would therefore like any further information, please contact us.

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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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