Marketers and brands using social networks will soon find their activities in those spaces regulated by the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, following recommendations submitted by the Advertising Association this week.
The proposed amendment to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code - expected to be in force by September - will extend the regulatory framework currently in place for paid online ads to all other online marketing communications. As a result, claims from marketers on their own Web sites and third-party sites like social networks will now be subject to ASA scrutiny, as they are in TV, print, and other forms of online advertising.
The code is designed to ensure that ads do not offend or mislead, and that they respect specific laws relating to the marketing of alcohol, gambling, auto, health, and financial products.
Advertising Association COO Rae Burdon described the extension as "very significant" for online marketers. "There is now considerable marketing activity on social networks, so it's clear that these spaces have to be included in the remit," he told ClickZ.
The code will also apply to content on marketers' own Web sites, but Burdon acknowledged the importance of a careful approach when dealing with smaller businesses. "[Online marketing] is essential for many small businesses, and we have to be sensitive to that when regulating," he added.
In a statement, the ASA itself said it welcomed the extension, describing it as a "direct and sensible response to people's concerns about the protection of consumers and children online." The body said nearly two thirds of the complaints it receives about online marketing currently lie outside of its remit, but that this should help "plug the regulatory gap."
The extension of the ASA remit will of course incur additional costs, and Burdon said the ASA would be "gearing up with additional staff and structures" in the coming months. In order to kick-start the process, Google agreed to donate seed funding for the extension.
In a statement, Google's U.K. managing director said, "We support the ASA's aims of providing consumer protection and are happy to help get this up and running for the benefit of UK consumers and businesses." Following that, regulation is likely to be funded through a small contribution from media agencies, as the ASA is in other channels. In its funding, Burdon suggested Google was effectively representing the "long tail" of smaller U.K. businesses and advertisers.
In addition, the IAB U.K.'s head of regulatory affairs described the news as "a significant step for both advertising and the internet," adding that his organization would work alongside the ASA to ensure the proposals are implemented effectively.
Sanctions for breaching the code have not yet been confirmed, but the revised codes are expected to be published this month and will come into effect in the autumn, the Advertising Association said.
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Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011.
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