Advertising Watchdog To Regulate Facebook

The advertising regulator’s powers will be extended to cover social media marketing from 1 March

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said on Wednesday it is to extend its authority to online marketing messages, including social media services such as Facebook and Twitter.

The move means such messages will be subject to the same regulations as advertisements on television, in newspapers and other media, the ASA said.

The expanded regulation of social media services is significant at a time of growing concern over children’s online safety. Currently the government does not directly regulate advertising on such services, leaving this to the ASA, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory body.

Expanded remit

The ASA already regulates paid-for online advertisements, but its remit does not currently include, for example, advertisers’ own marketing communications on their own websites or marketing communications in non-paid-for space under an advertiser’s control, such as space on social networks. Both of these types of messages are to be added to the ASA’s remit under the new rules.

From 1 March 2011 the rules in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code) will apply in full to all marketing communications online, regardless of sector or the size of the advertiser, the ASA said.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the body responsible for writing the CAP Code, decided to extend the ASA’s digital remit in response to recommendations from a wide cross-section of UK industry, the ASA said.

“We have received over 4,500 complaints since 2008 about marketing communications on websites that we couldn’t deal with, but from 1 March anyone who has a concern about a marketing communication online will be able to turn to the ASA,” said ASA chairman Lord Chris Smith, in a statement. “This significant extension of the ASA’s remit has the protection of children and consumers at its heart.”

New sanctions

The rules will give the ASA powers to demand the removal of paid-for links in search engines directing to pages hosting a banned ad, and will be able to place its own ads in search engines highlighting an advertiser’s continued non-compliance with one of its rulings.

The watchdog’s increased costs are to be met initially by a one-off £200,000 contribution from Google. The ASA also said it will extend its standard 0.1 percent levy on paid-for advertisements to ads appearing on search engines.

The new rules will focus on ads that sell products, rather than journalistic and editorial content or material relating to causes or ideas, the ASA said. However, such content that is a direct solicitation of donations for fund-raising will be included in the ASA’s remit.

The ASA said it will spend the next six months conducting training work to raise awareness and educate businesses on the requirements of the CAP Code.

The Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), which promotes clarity about the capabilities of online service providers, said it supported the ASA’s move.

“This is a vital step forward for the industry and it will mean that the consumer has greater protection due to increased transparency of online vendor website claims and advertising,” said CIF chairman Andy Burton, in a statement.

Recent cases

Last week the ASA banned a BT advertisement over what it said were misleading claims about BT’s broadband speeds. The telco was pinged earlier this month for one of its fibre adverts that boasted that its fibre-based service could deliver the Internet ‘instantly’.

The ASA has also been tightening up its scrunity of mobile service providers. In July, Orange was forced to pull an advert that claimed its 3G network had a better reach than its rivals, after a compliant by rival operator 3UK.

In June, Vodafone was rapped over the knuckles by the ASA over advert claims concerning its Sure Signal femtocell. That advert stated “Only Vodafone can guarantee mobile signal in your home.”