Will your online and social media marketing comply with the new CAP Code rules?

Dog with Not Guilty sign around his neckI’ve posted this as I wrote about this in my email newsletter back in September and someone asked me recently for the details again. Very important change for all businesses even us small ones!

A major change has been announced (August 2010) by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who are responsible for policing UK advertising (amongst a much broader remit!), that will affect every UK business that has a website or uses social media to promote its business.

The ASA’s current remit online includes ads in paid-for space and sales promotions wherever they appear. However, from March 2011, the rules in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (fondly known as the CAP Code) will apply to ALL marketing communications online, including the rules relating to misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.

This new remit will apply to ALL sectors and all businesses, regardless of size.

The new ‘rules’ will cover:
• Your own marketing communications on your company website and;
• Marketing communications in any non-paid-for space under your control, so that includes social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Gulp!

The remit will come into force on 1 March 2011 after a six month period of grace to allow the ASA and CAP to conduct training work to raise awareness and educate us all on the requirements of these new rules.

The implication of this change is that ALL copy and messages on your website or in social media channels about your products or services must not be misleading, and be 100% true and accurate. Any claims you make about your product or service must be substantiated by robust, statistically significant research data e.g. “90% of our clients are very satisfied”.

As a marketing professional obviously I need to keep abreast of these changes and ensure any work I do for my clients complies (that’s part of my job and due diligence as a Chartered Marketer). However, if you do your own marketing ‘in house’ which I know a lot of you do, you will need to understand these new rules for yourself.

Unfortunately, like the Data Protection Act (DPA) it isn’t something small business owners can turn a blind eye to and plead ignorance. Sadly, as is often the case, the minority who exploit and misuse the web are causing more headaches for those of us who operate online with care and integrity. C’est la vie!

About Sarah Orchard

Small business-friendly marketing consultant who is passionate about taking my experience working in big service based businesses, to help smaller but ambitious businesses, grow quicker and be more successful online.
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5 Responses to Will your online and social media marketing comply with the new CAP Code rules?

  1. Paul Marden says:


    Interesting article, certainly something every business should be thinking about. I’m interested to know how enforceable these rules actually are. In and of themselves they make sensible best practice guidance for us all, so I don’t want to sound like I think they should be avoided. But the ASA isn’t a statutory body they’re a self regulatory organisation for the advertising industry.

    So I guess my question is what the sanctions are and how they would be enforced in the event of failure to adhere to the rules of the code?


    • Hi Paul

      Yes, as with the ASA it will take action if it receives complaints from us, as consumers. I hope that customer complaints of this nature are something that all businesses strive to avoid at all costs.

      The CAP Code does rely heavily on self-regulation and awareness of marketers to avoid breeches. Hence, why I feel small businesses should have professional marketing advice on hand when they need it, to help them avoid potential pitfalls and legal ramifications.

      There are details of the sanctions listed on the ASA website

      It states:
      4.2 Underpinning the ability of CAP to maintain and improve high standards in marketing communications is an effective range of sanctions. If a marketing communication is in breach of the Advertising Codes, the marketer responsible is told by the ASA (or the CAP Compliance team) to amend or withdraw it. The vast majority of marketers willingly undertake to do so. If they do not, sanctions are applied, although the possibility of imposing sanctions is often sufficient to secure compliance with the CAP Code.

      4.3. Sanctions include adverse publicity arising from an ASA adjudication, pre-publication vetting by the CAP Copy Advice team and the withdrawal of trading privileges, including media space. On the very rare occasions that compliance with the CAP Code cannot be secured, CAP may, depending on the nature of the breach, refer a non-broadcast marketer to the Office of Fair Trading for action under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 or the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008.

      Hope this info helps!

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  3. Hmm, interesting. As I only post updates about what I’m doing and offering and don’t make any claims I think I should be ok.


    • Hi Garth, yes for most us not a major concern but we all need to understand the change as it is significant. Especially in the area of social media where people often express more controversial comments!

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