Good for the consumer, good for business: why it is right to extend digital media self-regulation


Earlier this week the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced its intention to extend its self-regulatory digital media remit from 1 March 2011. This will cover business’ own marketing communications on their own websites as well as in other non paid-for space under an advertiser’s control, such as social networking sites. All paid-for digital advertising, such as PPC search, display and (commercial) classified, is already covered by robust rules to protect consumers and promote trust within the sector.


What does this mean?


It means that the self-regulatory system for UK advertising is keeping pace with evolving digital marketing. The IAB has published a set of FAQs which provide further details on the extended remit. So what is really changing? The extended rules will toughen up on those that use these platforms to market age-restricted products, such as alcohol, as well as apply the existing food marketing rules. These are ‘thorny’ issues and so we should welcome this. The politicians certainly will. Chris Reed from PR and social media agency Brew Digitalsummed it all up very nicely: he concludes that “for most of us working in this space it should mean no change whatsoever.” He’s right. These new rules should not replace true self-regulation. Businesses should treat all marketing communications / ‘conversations’ with consumers as within remit to uphold the integrity of digital marketing.


Paid for online advertising grew by a staggering 2,200% in the ‘noughties’ reflecting changing consumer behaviour and the growth of the internet as a marketing platform. So, as marketing platforms converge and evolve, the ASA’s extended remit will reassure and continue to build consumer trust and confidence. This is good for business. In taking this step the growth of digital media – particularly social media – will continue to go from strength to strength.


However, it has not been an easy journey reaching this point and there will always be grey areas that will pose challenges to industry and the ASA. As Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport, Jeremy Hunt, told the IAB at a Q&A session yesterday, the ASA will need do this in “a light touch way… to ensure new advertising models are not restricted”. The IAB welcomes this and the ongoing debate: the joy of the medium we work in is that views will quickly come to the surface and help to improve the system. It might even be worth the ASA entering the social media arena itself to address issues raised.


In times when both marketing and self-regulation in general (witness the banking industry or our parliamentary system) are constantly under the spotlight, it’s better for us to line up with a credible and well-respected regulator such as the ASA. The alternative is unthinkable.


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