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Good As Gold’s reassuring guide to ASA compliance

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

You’ve probably heard about the new powers wielded by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) regarding the claims companies can and cannot make on their websites. Here’s Good As Gold’s reassuring guide to compliance …  

Magic potions

The ASA is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media. It applies clearly defined Advertising Codes to ensure ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Before Tuesday 1 March 2011, when it came to online content, the ASA was only able to police paid-for ads (such as banner adverts, pop-up boxes and paid search results). That meant companies could stick any old baloney up on their websites and not face any kind of official comeback. Since 2008, the ASA received more than 4,500 complaints about websites, but did not have the power to follow them up.

Now that’s changing. From Tuesday 1 March 2011, ASA’s remit has been extended to all online content. This means companies’ own websites, as well as other public spaces they control (such as their Twitter and Facebook accounts), are subject to ASA regulation.

You can download the latest UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing from http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/CAP-Code.aspx. If you’re put off by the 124 pages, here’s Good As Gold’s guide to some of the information it contains.

Although the ASA does issue sanctions to companies that fail to comply with rulings, its main role is not to punish. It is to help you ensure your marketing is legal, decent, honest and truthful.

In the light of ASA’s extended remit, here are a few questions to ask yourself about your website …

* Have I got documentary evidence to support my testimonials and any claims that I’ve presented as objective?
* Do any of my prices mislead, either by omission, undue emphasis or distortion? (Note that VAT-exclusive prices may be given only if all or most of your consumers pay no VAT or can recover VAT).
* Are my sales promotions fair and honourable, and have I included all the significant terms & conditions?
* Am I confident that something I’ve described as ‘free’ is indeed free?
* Have I protected the privacy of my visitors, customers, and people featured on my website?
* Is everything I’ve aimed at under-16s safe, suitable and ethical?

This is not exhaustive and if you’re worried about anything on your website, please just ask. As a professional copywriter, I take pride in staying updated on  adjudications and additions to the Codes, so I can advise you if I think you’re veering into unsubstantiated claim territory.

On several occasions I’ve liaised with the ASA’s Copy Team on my clients’ behalf to check that the medical or environmental benefits of their products were not being wrongly exaggerated. Often we were able to reword the copy so that the message was just as powerful, but no longer misleading or overblown.

Indeed, I believe that measured, ASA-compliant copy is a better selling tool than hyperbolic spiel, which most consumers will find patronising or untrustworthy.

You can also get a website audit from the Copy Advice team, which costs £800 + VAT and takes about ten working days to complete. Find out more at http://www.copyadvice.org.uk/Ad-Advice/Website-audit.aspx.

As long as you are committed to selling honestly, backing up your claims and being truthful, there is little to worry about. ASA is not a Big Bad Monster out to taint your name and stomp on your creativity. It is there to protect consumers and uphold high standards of advertising. To marketers, ASA’s regulation is a good thing: it means consumers can enjoy the work we produce and trust what they see, hear and read.

Call me on 0121 236 7066 or email marie@goodasgoldws.co.uk.

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