how the digital advertising standards affect charities

Its been a little while since the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) broadened their remit to include digital. In preparation for the launch I pulled together some quick notes that I thought others might be interested in. So here they are.

In summary – if you’re following best practice already, particularly the Fundraising Standards Board, you’re likely to already be doing all the right things. But it’s definitely worth double checking!


What’s covered? (extract from ASA’s website)
“Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.”

“There are three important aspects of the scope:

  1. It applies to marketing communications ‘directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services’ etc: this phrase conveys the primary intent of marketing communications coming within the extended digital remit: to sell something. It is understood that a marketing communication may set out to sell something in a myriad of different ways. It need not necessarily include a price or seek overtly an immediate or short-term financial transaction or include or otherwise refer to a transactional facility.
  2. The promotion of causes or ideas: The scope doesn’t cover marketing communications promoting causes or ideas but does explicitly apply to marketing communications which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of fund-raising activities. This takes into account of the potential for consumer detriment, especially financial loss, arising from these marketing communications.
  3. ‘non-paid-for space online under [the advertiser’s] control’: this phrase covers, although not exclusively, advertisements and other marketing communications on advertiser-controlled pages on social networking websites. Social networking websites have a significant consumer reach, are popular with children and young people and play an increasing role in public policy debates.”

Complaints to ASA generally relate to: Misleading Price claims, Availability claims, Delivery claims etc, Offensiveness, an Harm.

    Relevant exclusions

    • Press releases and other public relations material
    • Editorial content
    • Political advertisements
    • Corporate reports
    • Natural listings on a search engine or a price comparison site
    • Claims in marketing communications in media addressed only to medical, dental, veterinary or allied practitioners, that relate to those practitioners expertise
    • ‘The Code is primarily concerned with the content of marketing communications and not with… products themselves’
    • ‘Heritage advertising’ where its not part of your current promotional strategy and is placed in appropriate context.

    User generated content including customer reviews is outside of remit unless incorporated in marketing message/s or strategy eg user contributed photos of people enjoying your product displayed under a ‘marketing headline’. Planting of marketing related comments incognito is illegal

    Impact for charities

    • Not the whole of a charity’s website is in remit – just those places which are geared to getting donations or selling a service or product.
    • Campaigning material online is not covered where it’s not immediately linked to a donation. Although obviously if then published offline as advertising it is within remit as all offline advertising is.
    • PR material which is seen to be selling directly to consumers is likely to be covered – although PR is otherwise outside of the remit.

    Key considerations?

    • Claims need to be true and accompanied by all information necessary for the consumer to make an informed decision.
    • Must not omit material which is needed for the consumer to make an informed decision. Eg any criteria required for refunds to be possible, qualifications and limitations need to be stated,
    • Must hold evidence for any claims you wish to make, particularly those which consumers may want proof of.

    What can you do to be prepared?

    • Get training: ASA is offering training on 29 September 2011 ‘Advice:am – Digital advertising’ £170
    • Get an audit: ASA – a standard audit costs £800 + VAT and takes up to 10 working days to complete.
    • Get advice on individual bits: Advertisers seeking advice on individual marketing communications on their website may continue to use CAP’s free Copy Advice service.

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