ASA annexes t’internet

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has announced an extension of the Advertising Standards Agency’s (ASA) remit to include digital advertising from March 2011. This is currently receiving a mixed reaction and is not helped by the ASA’s admission that the extension of it’s remit is going to pose quite serious operational challenges. Thankfully they are taking a pragmatic view and will be looking for comments during the review process.

Most organisations are pretty happy about the regulatory role planned for corporate web space, advertiser networks and commercial portals but very real concerns surround the plans to audit and regulate surrounding content contained in social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter et al which all fall into the “non-paid for” sector.

Over the last few months some (less than “straight”) organisations have been using social media to actively solicit User Generated Content and then re-publish it within their own marketing and when the new ASA regulations come into force this information will fall under the new remit. An example of this is rewarding people to “like this” or “follow me” and then subsequently use the “value” of the authority gained as an active marketing tool. Many in the industry are wise to this now and don’t attribute any value to, for example, the number of followers a company has on Twitter but, alas, the consumer is frequently seduced by this level of acquired authority.

Some areas will escape the reach of the ASA and they include search engine entries and press releases although it’s fair to say that lots of search engine entries are designed to be marketing statements that influence consumers so it is possible that at some point in the future this may also come under the ASA.

How this will change the landscape is yet to be seen. Most marketing communications in the unregulated world are actually compliant at the moment and with the ASA not really having any of it’s own teeth (sanctions will be via a voluntary code adopted by the media publishers/networks and then, at last resort, the Office of Fair Trading) it is probable that little difference will be seen until a high-profile company crosses the line and the ASA reacts.