Review online advertising

New regulations have now introduced strict controls to ensure businesses remain legal, decent and honest in their online marketing campaigns and advertising.

The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (known as the CAP code) were introduced by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) on March 1. It extended the ASA’s remit to cover online marketing on sites including Twitter and Facebook, as well as offline.

The code applies to businesses’ websites and any other external sites used for marketing purposes, and is designed to offer consumers greater protection from claims made in online advertising. It will be paid for by a levy imposed on paid-for adverts appearing on internet search engines.

Generally speaking the code covers marketing communications intended to sell a product or service but there are a variety of activities that it does not apply to, or are unlikely to apply to, including press releases and other public relations material.

In particular, the ASA now has the power to demand a business removes any online marketing found to be in breach of the regulations.

The code will also cover the use of social networking sites with companies held responsible for comments made by users. Breach of the regulations can see fines handed out, and the ASA may also have the power to 'name and shame' businesses, and highlight through advertisements any businesses which persistently breach the regulations.

The code covers a wide range of areas, from sales promotions to financial products. Previously, the ASA’s online remit was limited to paid-for advertising such as pop-ups, and sales promotions. Now everything from advertisers’ own marketing messages on their own websites, to communications in other spaces under the advertiser’s control are covered.

The ASA has said that the extension of its remit ‘has the protection of children and consumers at its heart’ and comes about partly because of the number of complaints relating to online marketing and communications which the organisation wasn’t equipped to deal with.

Businesses which carry out online marketing should be reviewing their activities and getting professional advice to make sure they comply with the new extended code.

Andrew Clare