Advertising rules to be extended to cover website content

8 October, 2010

UK businesses face increased regulation over their website content from 1 March 2011, when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is extending its remit from that date to cover businesses’ marketing communications on their own websites, as well as on social networking sites and other “non-paid-for” space online.


Currently, the ASA’s online remit covers paid-for marketing communications such as pop-up and banner ads, paid-search and viral ads. However, nearly two thirds of the complaints received by the ASA since 2008 have related to activity over which it currently has no authority. The ASA hopes that the upcoming changes to the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Code will plug this regulatory gap.


From 1 March 2011, the CAP Code will apply to:

“Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.”


This new remit will focus on material which constitutes an advertisement or other marketing communications which are intended to sell something. Other forms of communication, such as editorial, press releases, investor relations material and material related to causes and ideas (except those that are direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising) will remain outside of the control of the ASA.


The ASA and CAP have indicated that they will work to raise awareness and educate businesses on the requirements of the new CAP Code before the changes come into force next March and CAP has already produced a briefing note on the new rules which is intended to guide stakeholders as to how the new remit will be operated.


Commenting on the move to extend the remit of the CAP Code to regulate companies’ activity on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, CAP noted that “Social networking websites have a significant consumer reach, are popular with children and young people and play an increasing role in public policy debates”.


The move has also been welcomed by industry trade body, the Advertising Association, whose Chief Executive, Tim Lefroy, said:

“As the nature of advertising changes, so must the way we regulate ourselves. Wherever it appears, it is vital that people are confident that advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. This new remit, agreed and supported across the industry, will ensure those standards are met on-line, just as they are elsewhere.”


The extension of the powers will be funded by a 0.1% levy on search ads booked through media and search agencies. This is an extension of the existing funding mechanisms in other media (such as the ASBOF levy) that pays for the ASA. The levy will be supplemented initially by an undisclosed amount of seed capital from Google.


The CAP Code’s existing sanctions will apply to the new remit. These include adverse publicity arising from an ASA adjudication and pre-publication vetting by the CAP Copy Advice team. If an advertiser continues to breach the regulations, CAP may, depending on the nature of the breach, refer the matter to the Office of Fair Trading who can pursue an action under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 or the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008.


From 1 March 2011 there will also be new sanctions available, including:

• providing details of an advertiser and the non-compliant marketing communication on an ASA microsite;
• removing, with the cooperation of the search engine, paid-for search advertisements that link directly to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication on the advertiser’s website or in other non-paid-for space online under the advertiser’s control; and
• placing paid-for advertisements on search engines that highlight the continued non-compliance of an advertiser’s marketing communication and link through to the ASA microsite described above.



Reviewed in 2015