As of the first of March, the Advertising Standards Authority now has powers over some user-generated content on the Internet. Excellent, you say. But what does this mean?
As the good people at ASA explain it, they now have jurisdiction over any marketing messages on an organisation’s website, or other ‘non-paid-for’ space under their (the organisation’s), control. And as a result, the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing now relates to that content. This covers rules about misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.
But when it comes to user-generated content it becomes a little less clear.
Basically, it relates to companies using your reviews or comments about their products in their advertising. Which they are perfectly allowed to do – you say that your hair has thickness and lustre after using Mane & Tail, then they can whack you onto their website as a testimonial.
The problem is separating genuine testimonials from cunning marketing ploys. A typical example might be the selection of positive feedback from message boards or social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook, or from specialized sites like Which? The ASA will apparently take a dim view of glowing reviews that are presented out of their original context – not taking into account, for example, negative opinions about the same product.
Of course, enforcing this will be tough. Quite how they’re going to do it is, as yet, unclear – there is talk of random spot-checks and reprimands for ‘persistent abusers’. But it will be based primarily on the complaint of concerned consumers.
And there are concerns. Some industry-watchers are worried that the rules are still too vague and don’t properly explain what constitutes ‘marketing’ – it’s all very well saying that online advertising has to be ‘legal, decent, honest and true’, but that doesn’t thrash out what the ‘marketing’ element means.
To conclude – it’s great that the ASA can now step in if user-generated content is used for evil. But it would be useful if they could just clear the situation up a little bit.