Whether it’s a TV commercial or a newspaper ad, marketers have always had to watch what they say and avoid making misleading claims through their promotional activities. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has a UK wide remit that enables them to monitor all offline marketing and advertising and have the power to enforce sanctions on any company found to be misleading customers through their promotional activities.
Although the ASA has been able to regulate the offline promotional channels, it hasn’t had the same authority when it comes to offline marketing, until now.
As of 1st March 2011, the ASA will be able to issue sanctions on any company found to be flouting its regulations and these sanctions will include a name and shame policy, removal of paid-for search advertising and the placement of search advertising by the ASA to highlight an advertiser’s continued non-compliance.
The ASA will also be accepting complaints from UK customers regarding foreign sites and liaise with their counterpart in that country, so even if you are outside of the UK then these changes could still affect you.
So if you are involved in online marketing, how can you make sure that you are not affected by the new advertising regulations?
Do As You Do Already!
If you are involved in any kind of offline advertising then you will already be producing material that is regulated by the ASA. Now that they have jurisdiction in the online world, you simply need to replicate what you are doing offline to make sure you fall within the guidelines.
The ASA admit themselves that there isn’t widespread evidence of problem advertisers online, and to date it has received only 4,500 complaints that “companies behave differently on their own sites” than they do in other marketing space.
Maintaining a consistent message both offline and online is something that most companies are doing already, so just keep doing what you are already doing in your offline marketing efforts.
Be Careful What Claims You Are Making
While the vast majority of advertisers will not knowingly try and manipulate the system, some may come unstuck by making claims that cannot be backed up or that may be untrue. If you are going to be making claims like “the cheapest prices online” or “the most popular online store” then make sure you do your research first. If you are going to make any claims of this nature, make sure you do your homework first.
Spread The Message
One of the key problems that may arise through these regulations is the problem of many more people being able to speak for the company. Any paid-for social networking activity is also covered by these regulations giving many more people the potential to make unfounded claims on behalf of the company. Whereas with more traditional forms of marketing there is only a small, select group of people who will be speaking for an organisation, the dawn of the internet and social networking means that there will be many more employees making statements on behalf of the company.
To stop you company coming out with incorrect statements, make sure that the communication within your company is efficient and accurate. Just as items such as corporate gifts can be used internally to spread brand awareness throughout a company, similar procedures must be used to ensure the right message is getting through to the right people. Trying to be officious and restricting access to company social networks may well be an exercise in futility, so make sure that the right people have the right facts to ensure your message remains consistent and your claims can be verified.
The ASA isn’t looking to impose draconian measures on companies who breach their regulations and will give advice and support where possible. Make sure that any claims that you make can be verified and that you avoid placing misleading claims and there is no reason why your company needs to worry about online regulations.