Self-regulation works in digital marketing but its credibility also depends on awareness

Over the last few weeks I’ve constantly beat the drum about the importance of self-regulation in online advertising. And a report this week by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) shows why. The ASA found that industry is sticking to digital marketing marketing rules. In a survey of 551 digital ads, 97 per cent complied with the non-broadcasting advertising code.

The compliance report was welcomed by ASA Director General, Chris Graham, who said: “The survey findings should go some way to dispelling the perception that digital is the ‘wild west’ of the media…self-regulation clearly works.” This is good news: self-regulation is effective. This was also confirmed at a Department of Health workshop during the week on food advertising. Whilst focused on food, the discussion at the event confirmed that the regulations in place – particularly on the internet – were sufficient and that there should be a greater focus on promoting healthy living (via campaigns such as Change4Life) as well as greater awareness and education for children, parents and teachers on the importance of healthier choices. This is welcome too.

However, there still remains a relatively low level of awareness and understanding of exactly what types of digital media fall within the ASA’s remit. In a room full of 50 or so people from across industry (including advertisers), consumer groups and government, only three (including the IAB and the ASA!) could confidently say that marketing communications such as email marketing, paid-for search marketing and display advertising fell within the regulator’s remit. The ASA’s compliance report – the first of its kind specifically on internet advertising – is welcome but, with expected changes next year to the non-broadcast advertising code and the ASA’s remit, it will be important for industry (as well as the ASA) to go out to the public, industry and consumer groups and raise the level of understanding and awareness of what self-regulation actually regulates. Its credibility depends on it.