If not, you need to get up to speed as the change announced last September is about to come into official affect from the 1st of March 2011.Prior to this extension, the ASA’s remit only covered paid adverts and sales promotions but as from the beginning of March, their remit extends to cover all marketing communications online whether they’re on advertisers’ own sites or on any other sites they control such as Facebook and Twitter.As marketers we should for the most part welcome the ASA’s newfound powers and it’s ability to protect the public from unscrupulous online marketers. However, while the Committee of Advertising Practise (CAP) has done a good job of providing marketers with guidance, there may still be some cause for concern if a recent ASA adjudication is anything to go by. In this particular case, a TV advertisement for Yves Saint Laurent Belle d’Opium perfume was banned because a number of viewers found the advert to be “irresponsible and offensive, because the woman’s actions simulated drug use.” Yes, the product in question contained the word opium and yes the word “addiction” was used in relation to it, but from a marketer’s perspective, whether or not the advert did in fact simulate and therefore promote drug use is not the point. In fact the ASA even admitted that “we noted the consumer research found that most viewers did not consider the ad to be offensive”. However, the real issue is that while many see perfume advertising as pretentious nonsense and tend to simply ignore it, in this case it only took thirteen people to complain for the advert to be banned – that’s just thirteen out of the supposedly forty four million who viewed the advert.Obviously the ruling only applied to the TV advertisement (although Yves Saint Laurent did subsequently sanitise the version on their website) but in theory, as from the 1st of March it will take just a few people to either misunderstand or take exception to some “marketing content” on a website to have that content banned by the ASA. Now that is something of a worrying thought, especially for those of us who aren’t intending to mislead or cause offence but may publish content which inadvertently upsets somebody.The ASA has confirmed that they’re expanding staff numbers by 10% to cope with the anticipated workload having received over 4500 complaints since 2008 which they were powerless to deal with at the time. No doubt many of those complaints were legitimate and at least now legitimate complaints about online advertising can be dealt with but you have to wonder if the floodgates are going to open once the public realises that websites, like TV advertisements are now at their mercy.
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