Social networking sites in the spotlight as advertising watchdog extends power

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Advertising

UK advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has extended its remit to cover marketing communications online, including social networking sites.

The ASA previously covered adverts in paid for space and sales promotions online, but from March next year the organisation will look at marketing communications on companies’ websites as well as their social networking pages on sites like facebook.

According to the watchdog, online communications have prompted more than 4,500 complaints since 2008, which it has not been able to police.

ASA spokesperson Rob Griggs explained that complaints about online communications reflect those made about advertising in other media, and there is no particular demon industry.

In addition, he confirmed that the rules informing what is and isn’t acceptable online will reflect those for other media that it polices.

Complications over definition

However, complications surround what qualifies as marketing communication and what does not, especially regarding social networking sites and user generated contents.

“This is perhaps one of the most difficult areas of the remit extension that has to be worked through,”​ he told

“Guidelines at the moment suggest that if user generated content is adopted into a company’s marketing communication, for example is placed prominently on the site, it could be seen as part of the marketing strategy and therefore will fall under the ASA,”​ he explained.

Although still very much in its infancy, cosmetics and personal care brands are beginning to recognise the potential social networking sites hold for propagating a brand’s message and such changes could significantly affect how these sites are used.

Sanctions and search engine support

In addition to the existing sanctions the ASA can propose, the Committee of Advertising Practice has agreed to new sanctions dealing specifically with online content.

These include the removal of paid-for search advertising (ads that link to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication) with the agreement of the search engines, and the introduction of ASA paid-for search advertisements that highlight continued non-compliance.

In order for the new digital remit to be a success, the ASA has enlisted the support of major search engines including seed capital from Google which has donated £200,000 (€240,000).

Additional funding will be found through increased levies on media agencies (an increase of 0.1 per cent) placed on paid-for advertisements appearing on internet search engines.

Related topics Market Trends

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