UK to adopt case-by-case approach to online marketing crackdown

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Asa Health claims Marketing

The interweb: The ASA will soon police it just like other media
The interweb: The ASA will soon police it just like other media
The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will tackle potential online breaches of its new digital marketing code one case at a time, but industry has called for further guidance at a London workshop yesterday.

The ASA’s new digital remit kicks into life on March 1 and the ASA is doing its best to answer queries from various industries including the health food and supplements sectors – hence the workshop and similar ones that will follow.

Yesterday’s meeting featured calls for the ASA Committee of Advertising Practice​(CAP) to make public any guidance it possesses to implement the new rules which mean in essence the same rules will apply to web marketing as other mediums such as print and television.

More guidance

A PepsiCo spokesperson said there was not enough guidance to become compliant by March 1 and questioned why more detailed guidance had not been released.

There was also discussion about how websites would be viewed that were not based in the UK, with advertising bodies in other countries being looked to as a first port of call.

But in general an ad-hoc approach was being pursued, the ASA said.

“We are taking a case-by-case approach at the moment as, along with bodies the world over, we can’t pretend to have all the answers,” ​CAP code policy manager Malcom Phillips told NutraIngredients.

He said the e-retail, computers and broadband services and leisure industries had raised the most red flags so far, but most industries, including food and supplements, had featured in the 4000+ complaints the ASA had received about online advertising since 2008.

He said the ASA did not expect an enforcement frenzy come March.

“Most of the big companies have applied the code for some time,” ​he said. “There is variety out there in terms of potential breaches of the Code. The food sector has not been a massive source of complaints so far.”

But UK-based health claims consultant, Mark Tallon, PhD, from NutriSciences, was at the meeting and said many companies could be in for a rude shock if their web marketing materials are scrutinised by the ASA after March 1.

What criteria they use will have major implications for the UK and US online marketing campaigns,” ​he said.

He continued, although some case law is already in place relating to the ‘principle of reception’ and the ‘e-Commerce Directive’, little direct food law precident is evident.”

He added: “In light of the increasing scrutiny over online advertiing and in light of the EU nutrition and health claims regulation, companines must now not only look to on-pack, hard copy and traditional broadcast mediums with regards to legislative compliance, but also to digital marketing strategies if they are to avoid the ‘name and shame’ approach adopted by the ASA.”


A scan of corporate websites and social networking tools conducted by NutraIngredients reveals a plethora of messages that contravene EU health claim laws, which the ASA will be able to rule on from March 1, 2011.

The ASA will work with search engines proposes two sanctions against those that fail to comply with its rulings:

  • Removal of paid-for search advertising – ads that link to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication may be removed with the agreement of the search engines.
  • ASA paid-for search advertisements - the ASA could place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser‟s continued non-compliance.

Search behemoth Google has donated £200,000 (€240,000) in seed capital for the project and the industry through online search and media agencies have agreed to donate 0.1 per cent of its search advertising spend to fund the ASA expansion – expected to raise another £700,000 (€841,000).

CAP Chairman Andrew Brown added: “Extending the online remit of the ASA has been a top priority for UK industry over the last couple of years. Our aim has been to extend further in the online world the principles that are already well established in our system, namely those of effective consumer protection and fair competition.”

NutraIngredients health claims​ 2010

Want to make sure you are prepared for 2011 with the most up-to-date health claims information? Sign up for NutraIngredients 2010 health claims conference in Brussels next Wednesday. For more details click here.

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