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Must Read: New legal changes regarding websites

As a business owner, it is vitally important that you adhere to the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) mandatory rules and regulations. To date, they have covered broadcast media, such as TV and radio, as well as non-broadcast (direct mail, press ads) and sales promotion (for instance competitions, buy one get one free offers and so on).

The ASA produces the British Codes of Advertising Practice and these are recognised by the Government, the Office of Fair Trading and the Courts as the established means of consumer protection (and, yes, it covers business to business too).

To comply with the Codes, your promotional messages have to be legal, decent, honest and truthful, and apply in the spirit of the Code as well as to the letter.

From 1st March, these Codes will now include your website, and any promotion of your business/products/services you do via social media.

So, anything you do in a digital format from now on will need to adhere to these same rules.

The Good News

The ASA and the Codes aren’t there to trip you up. They are there to protect the consumer, but also to protect you.

You can have the ASA team of experts check over your promotional materials, your ads, your websites and your social media promotions. They won’t re-write the copy for you, but they will tell you what you need to change (if anything) to ensure it’s right (ie legal, decent, honest and truthful).

The deal is though, that you have to be honest with them so that they can help you!

The great thing about this is that this service is free.

There’s no catch to this – it’s paid for by, what’s called, “above the line” media. (The following bit is nothing to do with the Codes but it IS quite interesting!!)?.

A bit on the side?

Marketing activities generally fall into two categories – “Above the Line“ and “Below the Line“. “Above the Line (ATL)” generally covers the broadcast media (radio, TV, but also bill boards), whilst “Below the Line“(BTL) covers direct mail, door drops and so on.

Organisations that use ATL media have to pay a statutory small percentage of their media fee which goes into the “pot” to pay for the existence of an industry self regulating body – the Advertising Standards Authority. (Which is how we get free advice!).

Organisations which use BTL activities don’t have to pay this percentage.

Of course, a good campaign will include both ATL and BTL activities (in marketing speak, this is called “Through the Line”, or TTL!!), and when the Marketing Agency invoices the client, the broadcast media will be at the top of the invoice, with a subtotal, and the statutory percentage added, then a line is drawn across the invoice, with any direct mail, sale promotion and other activities listed below. And this is why things are categorised as Above and Below the Line: because they literally were/are above or below the line in the invoice!

Who to Contact / Where to Find out More

Anyway, back to the matter in hand and to finish off.

If you want to ask the ASA’s advice on any advertising or promotional messages (broadcast, printed or digital), you can call them or email them, and their details are here: http://www.cap.org.uk/CAPServices/CopyAdvice.aspx

I can promise that they are very friendly and always extremely helpful, having spoken to them many times over the years.

If you want to read more about the new digital rules, you can check them out here:  http://www.cap.org.uk/CAPServices/Digital-remit-advice.aspx

If you fall foul of the Codes then you could be fined thousands (could your business really afford that?), and the ASA have a “name and shame” policy (and could your business afford this too??).

Last but not least – do you send out an email newsletter?

Just as aside, if you have an email newsletter and you add people without asking their permission (getting a business card at a networking event doesn’t constitute permission), and you don’t have a double opt in set on your autoresponder, you might want to re-consider your policy on this.

Email laws are currently woolly in this country (the UK), but very tight in the US. That said, we have very tight Data Protection rules (as do the US as well), and knowing the industry as I do, I would say that email marketing laws will be tightened up in the UK and you will be required to get people’s express permission to join your mailing list.

If the ASA are now extending their Codes to digital formats, email marketing won’t be far behind?.

If you have any concerns, please do drop me an email.

This article is not meant to worry you, just to help you make sure you stay the right side of a law that most business owners don’t know exists.

Have a great week,
Kim.