Curbing the quacks & protecting the public
In November last year, there was speculation that the ASA’s remit might be extended to cover claims on advertisers’ own websites, rather than just third-party online adverts (the so-called digital remit).
In launching their new Code of Advertising Practice today (which comes into force on 1 September 2010), the ASA/CAP have given more details:
4. What is not included in new the Codes?
Extending the Digital Remit of the CAP Code
In its consultation, CAP clarified the existing online remit of the Code which covers paid-for advertisements and sales promotions on websites. However, the consultation did not contain proposals to extend the Code’s remit to cover marketers’ own marketing communications on their own websites. This was because this was the subject of a separate project being considered by the wider advertising industry, led by the Advertising Association, at that time.
On 8 March 2010 the advertising industry has now recommended an extended online remit to CAP, along with new enforcement powers and a mechanism to fund its regulation. This would allow the Advertising Standards Authority to apply the Code to online marketing communications that currently sit outside their remit for the benefit of consumers, children and industry.
CAP will now assess the practicalities of the recommendations, with the aim of bringing the new remit into effect as soon as possible, later in 2010.
I’m sure this will take some time to sort out properly, but it opens up all sorts of new possibilities for those really interested in protecting the public from claims — particularly health claims — that are not substantiated by robust scientific evidence.
Sceptic activists have been very successful in curbing some of the worst excesses of quacks and others out to make a fast buck from the vulnerability, gullibility and scientific ignorance of others, but so many claims are made on sellers’ own websites. Until the ASA takes over this as part of their remit, the only option has been to report them to Trading Standards. However, this has proved unsatisfactory, partly due to the lack of resources and experience within TS and partly due to the lack of a coherent country-wide strategy.
When the ASA takes on this function, I hope they have correctly anticipated the high demand that is likely to come from sceptics anxious to police quacks who are not currently properly or adequately policed.