UK 1st March: New digital marketing regulations

Attention all digital marketers covering the UK!


Important new regulations came into force at midnight on 1 March 2011 designed to give consumers more comprehensive protection online. In short, the Code of Advertising Practice (CAP) has been extended to cover digital channels including websites and social media channels. This means that the same rigorous rules that already apply to marketing communications like TV and print ads now also apply online. Read on to get the full picture.

Websites and Social Media channels now governed by CAP

CAP logoFrom today (1 March 2011), new regulations are in force governing the ways organisations trading in the UK can use their own websites and other non-paid-for online channels for marketing communications, advertising and marketing purposes. As a result, any activity that is considered to be advertising or marketing communication on internal websites or non-paid-for Social Media channels will now be governed by the Code of Advertising Practice (CAP) under the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

What this means for you:

Previously, the CAP only applied to traditional forms of advertising like TV and print ads. From today, however, if you publish messages which are deemed to be an advertisement or marketing communication, including videos, to any digital channel your activity will be governed by the terms of the CAP. All digital channels are covered including websites, social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook, and other non-paid-for placements.

Under the Code, you must ensure that all information shared through any digital channel complies fully with the CAP and that your message does not mislead, harm or offend. Your marketing messages must also be socially responsible and prepared in line with the principles of fair competition. In addition, the Code contains specific rules for certain products and marketing techniques including environmental claims, direct marketing and prize promotions, all of which are now extended into digital channels.

Sanctions for non-compliance with the CAP can be severe including, but not limited to, the removal of an offending company’s paid-for search advertising and high profile advertising by the ASA to highlight an advertiser’s non-compliance with the Code.

Some examples of potential infringements of the CAP:

  • Posting a prize draw promotion on Twitter without providing detailed approved terms and conditions
  • Discrediting or denigrating another product, marketer, trademark, trade name or other distinguishing mark in a post on Facebook
  • Sharing a photo online of a child in a hazardous situation or behaving dangerously
  • Implying a person has given a personal approval of a product without first obtaining their explicit written permission allowing this
  • Posting advice that may cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive
  • Sending unsolicited email marketing communications that are not obviously identifiable as marketing communications without the need to open them
  • Adopting user generated content (UGC) from private individuals that breaches any aspect of the CAP into formal marketing communications
  • Using a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention
  • Viral videos that breach any aspect of the CAP guidelines

If you publish content to digital channels be sure to familiarise yourself with the CAP and ensure that your actions will not breach any of the terms of the Code.

Further reading:

About the digital remit extension:

The Code of Advertising Practice (CAP): 
(see the General Sections link for specific exclusions and exemptions)