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UK ad code for all digital media?

Do you know which of the advertising you carry on your sites is covered by the UK Code of Advertising Practice (CAP)?

You’d be surprised - quite a lot is. Straighforward banner ads and pop-ups, for example. The rules of the code cover issues such as misleading customers and taste and decency, as well as focusing on specific areas such as alcohol and health claims.

The advertising industry has always prided itself on the fact that its codes are effective, provide a rapid response and can evolve more quickly to address new issues than standard legislation.

Governments are inclined to agree - with the UK Government making CAP and BCAP (the broadcast code) the chosen method of enforcing new EU-level rules on misleading and aggressive advertising, and the EU Commission giving a ringing endorsement to the self-regulatory system.

Legislation or self-regulation?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that certain complaints cannot be investigated by the ASA because the ads are appearing in media not currently included in the scope of the code e.g. some types of search. The pressure is on from NGOs and Government both here and in Brussels to think about how advertising self-regulation could apply to the online space.

The industry needs to ask itself if it wants to be regulated via legislation or via the extension of self-regulatory codes. The question is as much a political one as a practical one - banning or restricting advertising is an easy vote grabber for Governments.

It is always tempting for them to legislate but legislation is often the result of political compromise and can end up being a ‘least-worst’ solution agreed in order that the process can be drawn to a close. Self-regulation shows the industry is able to police itself but it is not an easy option. It does require industry sign-up to rules which bring obligations and sometimes go further than the law might.

Discussion at EU

There has already been some discussion of the issue at both UK and Brussels level. The European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) is in the process of producing a best practice recommendation.

It will identify advertising techniques not currently included in the scope of advertising codes and make recommendations about how they might be. The same process is happening in the UK under the auspices of the Advertising Association.

Both AOP and the IAB are included in those discussions. This is not the production of a whole new code, however, but a proposal for the extension of the existing code to marketing techniques currently not covered by it.

We would welcome member input on whether that extension is desirable and what limits there should be on it.

Link to CAP code

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