ASA gets it wrong on social media, fails to consult professional PR industry bodies

If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they'd punch you in the face On September 1 the UK Advertising Standards Association (ASA) announced ‘Landmark agreement extends ASA’s digital remit‘. The announcement said that the Committee of Advertising Practice Code (CAP Code) that governs UK advertising will be extended to ‘apply in full to marketing communications online including the rules relating to misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.’

On the face of it a good thing. But as usual the devil is in the detail and this is where it gets murky, very murky. It falls down badly, largely because in typical arrogant advertising industry fashion they’ve just looked at their own little big world and assumed they are right. They aren’t.

The ASA/CAP’s understanding of different communications disciplines is blinkered at best. As a result its proposals are riddled with ambiguities based largely on ignorance of how other communications disciplines actually work. One major issue is the definitions of editorial and advertising aren’t clear and potentially infringe the freedom of speech not only of businesses and organisations, but also citizens and consumers.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations first raised the potential problems in May this year when it approached the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), which is represented on the CAP, and was assured that the PR industry would be consulted. The advertising industry failed to honour its promise and as a result has already been forced to admit that its proposals have ‘grey areas’.

The CIPR has already issued a statement expressing its concern and through its Social Media Panel (disclosure I am a founder member) will press for the proposals to be revised.

The rather apt cartoon is one of Hugh MacLeod’s classics.

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.