While ads on traditional media such as TV, radio, billboards and print are closely monitored, online ads and statements made by companies have escaped any form of censorship so far.
However, as of the 1st March, this is set to change in the U.K.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is being empowered to monitor ads and claims made by companies on various internet sites including their own. This monitoring will also encompass unpaid for statements.
Matt Wilson of the ASA says, “The principle that ads have to be legal, decent, honest and truthful is now going to extend to companies’ claims on their own websites.”
If the ASA finds that some claims made by a company are exaggerated or unsupportable, they can now take action against it.
As of now, however, the only action possible is to enforce withdrawal of the statement.
This seems to clearly leave a loophole for manipulation, as it is possible for a company to make some exaggerated claims, to gain a lot of customers and then withdraw the claims on their own before any form of complaint is made to the ASA.
The comments made by customers on a website will not be regulated by the ASA unless the company concerned makes use of positive endorsements to advertise their products.
To encourage companies to stick to ethical claims, the ASA plans to announce the names of the companies which are found to misuse the web. They may also release ads warning consumers about the defaulters.
Last year, when the ASA had no power to act against claims on the websites, they still received 2,500 complaints. In anticipation that this number could now increase greatly, the ASA has already increased their staff strength by 10%.