ISBA Director General designate Mike Hughes is telling anyone who will listen that he wants a new CAP Code for Digital Marketing. Is he talking out of his virtual hat or does he have a point?
Topic: Online advertising
Who: Mikes Hughes, Director General designate of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers
When: November 2006
Mike Hughes, newly appointed Director General of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, has already set the cat amongst the pigeons four months before taking up his post in March 2007 in succession to encumbent DG Malcolm Earnshaw.
In perhaps too much of a hurry to show off his digital credentials, Mike has put it about that as soon as he is in post, he will be pressing for an "extended" CAP code that gets tougher on interactive and online marketing.
Mike says too many UK marketers still fail to understand that viral and other online advertising can backfire. So the best solution in Mike's view is to devise a separate, free standing CAP Code for digital marketing.
This way, he feels, Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority will be able to take more control over the sector, thus reducing digital's propensity to become "the biggest threat to the control of communications that any marketer has ever faced."
Why this matters:
Mike's views certainly deserve to be taken seriously, especially in a month when we report elsewhere on marketinglaw.co.uk that to circumvent Ofcom's new restrictions on food ads on TV, marketers will simply migrate online.
But is yet another Code the answer?
On viral marketing, for example, it might certainly be said that because the CAP Code itself is not expansive on the topic, the ASA has to be perhaps over-reliant on a Committee of Advertising Practice "Helpnote" whose logic and clarity is sometimes understandably questioned.
And then there is the knotty problem of brand owners' own websites. The CAP Code currently doesn't cover these at all and this has to be cause for concern.
But we're not talking about a wild west here. If the material is on UK servers, there are more than enough laws that have something to say about online advertising that gets it wrong.
Already well legislated for, on-line or off-line, are for example misleading price claims, misleading product descriptions, unfair comparative advertisements, ads that are just plain misleading and, in just a year's time, thanks to the new EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, ads that are "unfair."
Then there's the sheer volume of material online. Many may have forgotten that there was a time when the CAP Code did cover website content. But the self regulators soon realised that their limited resources simply couldnt spread that far. So the digital remit was dramatically scaled down to just email and mobile phone marketing, paid-for banner ads and online promotions.
Has anything changed to make a U turn viable? Not that we've noticed. But that's not to say Mike is wrong to reopen the debate, whether or not it is met by a chorus of "not another code" groans. Here on marketinglaw we think the answer lies not in more codes but better enforcement of the laws and codes we already have. But then again, we are biassed.