The ASA is set to expand is remit to cover marketing messages on brand’s own websites and social media pages- leaving the question: ‘What counts as marketing, and what counts as editorial content’? Tony Foggett, CEO of Code Computerlove, takes a closer look at what will to be a key issue for brands and agencies come March 2011…
When I first saw the announcement yesterday, from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that it was widening its digital remit, my first thoughts were that this was a ‘doh, of course…’ kind of story. Digital is now a key comms channel so why should it be subject to any different level of scrutiny than its traditional neighbours.
The interesting thing for me about the announcement is how they are defining the boundaries of what they cover.
At Code, for a while now, we have been using an adjusted understanding of the shape of the media landscape to inform our digital strategy planning on behalf of our clients. That is to say the media landscape has not only fragmented but actually split into 3 very different strands:
– Paid for space (Paid search, Display Ads, Sponsorships)
– Owned (ie brand controlled space, so Website, mobile site, facebook page, company blogs etc)
– Earned space (WOM, Buzz, “Viral”)
Nokia were possibly the pioneers of this thinking, but Forester have published some great work clarifying not just the existence of the space but importantly the relationship between them, and the adjusted roles that the spaces should play within a digital strategy.
The ASA website says the following about their extended remit:
The new remit will ensure the same high standards as in other media and will cover:
Advertisers’ own marketing communications on their own websites and;
Marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Journalistic and editorial content and material related to causes and ideas – except those that are direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising – are excluded from the remit.
With the first two points they are using the definition of Owned media space to define their remit in recognition of the increased importance these spaces have on consumer decision making.
This is relatively straightforward, although my immediate questions are things like what about blogs ran by employees of a company? How can brands take realistically take responsibility for the conversations that consumers have within these spaces?
Brand owned communities such as the one we developed for Durex: Ora! need a level of restraint and impartiality from the brand to enable the members of those sites to take ownership and build community.
Where the largest amount of fuzziness within the ASA’s statement is in the add on line that I’m interpreting as an open ended attempt to deal with the very complicated issue of Earned media.
“Journalistic and editorial content and material related to causes and ideas – except those that are direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising – are excluded from the remit.“
Here the ASA have switched their definition from ‘space’ to ‘content’, for my mind this is where the most dubious marketing activity on the Internet is occurring and conversely will be the hardest to police.
Once content created by a brand has gone viral it is impossible to put it back in the box. Its not just about content, the practice of Astroturfing – (campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but are disguised as spontaneous, popular “grassroots) is an activity that is difficult to prove and detect, take for example the activity of universal pictures that this blogger describes in their manipulation of YouTube to promote their superman returns DVD.
Is the creation of fake identities or ‘Sock Puppets’ on YouTube to increase viewing figures false advertising? Unfortunately the nature of the Internet makes it very difficult to tell who is real and who is not. But perhaps here at the limits of what is possible for the ASA is where the consumer empowered and self-regulating nature of this medium takes over.
By Tony Foggett
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