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ASA to police online ads from March 2011

Advertising standards agency extends remit

Advertising Standards Agency logo

The ASA has announced that it will increase its role in policing online advertising from 1st March 2011. From this date it will investigate complaints about the marketing messages companies use on their own websites.

The watchdog’s new powers will also extend to marketing messages in other non-paid-for spaces under companies’ own control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Currently the ASA’s remit is limited to online adverts in paid-for spaces, such as banner ads, and sales promotions wherever they appear online.

Spotted a misleading financial ad? Get Which?’s tips on how to complain

The ASA says the move is in response to the 4,500 complaints it has received since 2008 about online marketing communications that it was unable to deal with under existing rules.

New sanctions for rule breakers

The ASA will take action against any website breaching the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code), including rules relating to misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.

It will have new sanctions to use against anyone found in breach of the code.  These include the removal of paid-for search advertising linking to the offending page, as long as the search engine hosting the ad agrees. The ASA will also have the option of going on the offensive by placing its own advertisements online to highlight an advertisers’ continued non-compliance.

Technology adverts in the spotlight

Advertisements and claims for technology services are likely to come under scrutiny under the new rules. Research by Ofcom, the communications regulator, in July highlighted the increasing gap between the broadband speed providers promise in advertising and what people can achieve in practice.  

In August the ASA upheld a number of complaints about BT’s television, radio and print advertising of its 20Mbps Total Broadband service. The ASA concluded that the ads must not appear again and that BT should ensure it has ‘robust documentary evidence to prove all claims capable of objective substantiation’.

Find out more about Ofcom’s latest broadband speed research

Which? technology expert Ceri Stanaway says: ‘Consumers deserve to be given honest and responsible marketing communications wherever they appear, so it’s great news that the ASA will now be looking at all marketing messages online. However, the successful implementation of these increased powers will rely on cooperation from search engines to agree to remove links to content that breaches rules’

‘Which? believes there is still more work to be done to make sure consumers can’t be misled into signing up for a broadband service on the basis of false advertising. We hope that the ASA steps up to the mark and works closely with Ofcom to ensure broadband providers are not permitted to make misleading claims’

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