Advertising Watchdog Crackdown on Misleading Online Marketing

Marketing messages delivered through websites and social media are to be regulated for the first time, in an attempt to crackdown on misleading promotional statements.

From March 2011, firms using their web presence to promote their goods and services will be subject to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP code).

Currently, watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) remit only covers paid-for adverts online, including pop-ups and banners, but excludes advertising controlled by businesses themselves. But from next March, the CAP code rules on misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children, will be extended to cover businesses’ own marketing communications on their websites, as well as marketing messages on other non-paid-for space under their control such as social networking sites like Facebook.

Although the ASA cannot levy fines, it can ask businesses to remove advertising and will publicise those that have breached best practice.

“The ASA will mostly crack down on misleading statements – for example, if a business makes a claim on a website and it doesn’t have the evidence to back up that claim,”

said ASA spokesman, Rob Griggs.

“So if a car retailer claimed it sold the most energy-efficient car of its class and it didn’t have any evidence, we would ask them to remove it.”

However, the chief marketer at online marketing consultancy Have More Clients, Karen Purves, said that the majority of small businesses would not fall foul of the rules.

“Most small firms underplay what they can do, rather than overplay it. The extension of the ASA’s remit to more online marketing will only catch out those who aren’t true to what they can deliver.”

“It may be more of a problem when the business grows to 20 or more staff and employees take control of different areas such as marketing. In that case the business owner should talk to the employees and emphasise that they should only claim what is true of the product or service, and back it up with testimonials where possible.”

Founder of home business network Enterprise Nation, Emma Jones, said the extended rules would be positive for small firms.

“The extension of the code simply applies to the web what’s been happening for years in the offline world. It will build people’s trust in buying online and this is good news for anyone selling online. The web has become a most sophisticated and efficient sales channel – having adverts monitored ensures it remains a safe and honest place to browse and buy.”

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