There is currently no regulation on what can be said in internet advertising. But that will change when the law finally catches up with technology on 1 March.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has long monitored advertising in the more traditional media: newspapers and magazines, billboards and television. And now its scope is being extended to cover the online world.
From the start of March, the ASA will be able to police any statement on a website which could be interpreted as marketing, even if it is not a paid advert. So that includes statements or videos a company may place on its own website.
“The principle that ads have to be legal, decent, honest and truthful is now going to extend to companies’ claims on their own websites,” said the ASA’s Matt Wilson.
Currently the ASA can rule that a tv or press advert breaks its Code of Practice and have it removed, but the very same ad can still run on the web.
In a ruling this year, the ASA decided that a regional television advert for the Metrocentre on Tyneside breached the advertising code. It was claimed that the centre was “the best shopping centre in Britain”.
But the ASA ruled that this claim was misleading as it was based on a three year old survey. However the same claim was made on the Metrocentre’s website and there was no way it could be challenged.
The ASA is a form of self-regulation and is funded by a levy on the advertising industry. It receives no government funding.
The watchdog has taken on extra staff and is clearly expecting a high volume of complaints to come in. Last year it received 2,500 complaints about websites despite being unable to regulate the web. Who knows how many it will now have to deal with.
So if you see misleading or inappropriate advertising on a web site you now know where to take your complaint.