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Think BR: The Cap Code extension can only be a good thing

The ASA is now ready to pop a Cap in the ass of brands that mislead with owned and earned media. Mindshare's Paul Armstrong and Claire Valoti give a media agency view.

Paul Armstrong, head of social for Mindshare UK

Paul Armstrong, head of social for Mindshare UK

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Previously the Cap Code just applied to paid media; now it extends into the owned and earned spaces of the media landscape - a welcome addition for many consumers who are simply fed up with misleading brand communications. 

We’re seeing interesting changes to the paid, owned and earned media landscape, with recent changes from Facebook brand pages to new ad types that use increasing amounts of user profile data.

The extension of the code is yet more proof of the impact these channels have for consumers, advertisers and marketers - now and in the future.

In short, it’s now the ASA's job to identify and correct misleading advertisements and "marketing communications" that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.

Before we look at what’s covered, let’s clarify that slightly sweeping phrase "marketing communications". 

It refers to any "type of communication for a good, service, opportunity or gift that primarily sets out to sell something".   

Fine, but it goes further; it’s not just covering explicit sales.

"Marketing communications" also covers other ways to sell, and these may not necessarily include a price or seek an immediate financial transaction.   

Pretty far reaching by all accounts… but let’s go back to that later. 

Areas that are now not exempt include: company websites, company blogs, blog and message board comments, Facebook brand pages (including comments, notes and tab content), Tweets (including sponsored Tweets and promoted trends), branded YouTube channels (including comments and descriptions) and user-generated content competitions. 

This is especially important in light of the new fan page changes for brands as they can now move around the Facebook platform and post in a wide variety of places.

The following areas are not within the remit extension: websites and fan pages set up by fans (unless you ask them to set them up), community moderation, user-generated content (unless you ask them to create it), press/analyst websites, CSR statements, press releases, annual reports, financial statements and stock price announcements.

We have to take these changes seriously because the ASA isn’t likely to mess around. Repeat offenders will:

  1. Be publicly named and shamed on the ASA website
  2. Potentially have paid-for search advertising removed if they link to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication
  3. Have ads placed against them online highlighting the brand’s continued non-compliance.  Anyway you look at it it’s not good news if you break the code. 

As an update to the existing Cap Code, it’s extensive as well as necessary if the industry is to remain independent from government regulation.

Time will tell how truly enforceable it is given the large remit the ASA is assuming. When you think of the speed of the area being targeted, a priority system will likely be adopted. 

One thing for certain is that it’s a clear shot across the bow of those who are infringing and overstating claims - this can only be a good thing.

It’s a brand new day out there, and as with any changes that are as significant as these there’s a lot of grey area and questions right now. 

The ASA has set up a Cap Line to help marketers bring sites in line with the new code and generally ask questions: copyadvice.co.uk and 020 7492 2100.

Additional Resources:

Full details on digital remit
Help notes

Paul Armstrong, head of social for Mindshare UK, and Claire Valoti, head of digital display & mobile at MindShare UK

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