Ad watchdog given teeth for online marketing

Funded in part by Google, the ASA will gain new powers that will allow it to more closely regulate companies' online marketing strategies on sites such as Facebook and Twitter

The Advertising Standards Authority has been granted new powers to adjudicate over marketing material that appears on companies' own websites and online social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

In addition to the authority's current sanctions, from 1 March 2011 the ASA will be able to remove paid-for search advertisements that link to untruthful advertising communications, which could include traditional online ads, viral videos and other marketing material. However, search engines would have to agree to removing links that are present on their listings.

Funding of the new powers will come from applying a 0.1 percent levy on paid-for ads that appear on the internet through media and search agencies. Initially, the funding will be supplemented by seed capital from Google, the ASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Apart from the removal of ads and links to ads, measures that could be taken against inappropriate adverts could include the ASA placing its own advertisements highlighting continued non-compliance, or even providing details of the non-compliant material on an ASA micro-site, to which it may make "particular effort to draw public attention".

The new remit, which represents an extension of the current Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code, came about after the ASA received more than 4,500 complaints about online advertising since 2008, according to ASA chairman, Lord Chris Smith.

"This significant extension of the ASA's remit has the protection of children and consumers at its heart," Smith said in the statement. " From 1 March anyone who has a concern about a marketing communication online will be able to turn to the ASA."

The code is subject to the same existing exclusions that cover editorial and political content, but categories such as 'advergames' — games that are used to promote a product or organisation — which were already covered in the paid-for arena will now include advergames on a company's own website or on social networking sites. Some user-generated content will also fall under the new ASA remit if it is adopted by a website owner and incorporated within marketing communications, regardless of whether the submission of the content was solicited or unsolicited.

A six-month window of grace, leading up to 1 March next year, has been granted to allow companies to get up to speed with the new requirements of the CAP code. It will also allow the CAP and the ASA to conduct training work and raise awareness of the new measures, particularly for online companies that have not previously been subject to regulation.


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