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What the new ASA regulations mean for marketers

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 1st March 2011

There is a lot of news out there today about the new Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulations that come into force today.

The change means that the ASA’s online remit now extends to cover companies’ own marketing claims on their own websites and in other non-paid for spaces they control, such as social media.

According to the ASA, the move comes after recent complaints where they have been powerless to intervene:

“Since 2008, we have received over 4,500 complaints that we couldn’t deal with, but now anyone who has a concern about an online marketing communication will be able to turn to us. Not only is this good news for consumers, it is also good for business – marketing communications that are trusted are more likely to work and deliver value.”

It has increased it’s workforce by 10% to about 70 people since January in order to cope with the anticipated increase in complaints.

So what does this change mean in practice?

The underlying aims of the ASA is to ensure that adverts (and now other forms of online communication) are legal, decent, honest and truthful. So at the most basic level, marketers need to ensure that anything published online ticks these boxes.

In practice this means that where marketers might make claims about what their products or services do (or what their customers have experienced), they must be properly substantiated. It also means that customer quotes or references must be “honest and transparent”, e.g. that the person is real and has actually used the product.

The key features are:

  • Can a brand show documentary evidence to substantiate claims?
  • Are claims legal, decent, honest, transparent and truthful?
  • Are adverts or communications likely to cause serious or widespread offence, (e.g. race, religion, sex or disability)?

The code won’t apply to other PR activities including press releases or editorial content.

User-generated content in itself cannot obviously come under the code, but if a brand is to feature UGC (e.g. through a retweet or on its website or Facebook page), then it will have to comply.

What are the penalties?

If a brand is found to have failed to comply, then it will be censured and asked to remove the offending content. If a brand fails to do this, it will be publicly named and shamed by the ASA.

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