Copy candor

How many times do you feel you’ve been mislead and let down in an advertisement, especially when ordering from the internet? This may well become less frequent  now that the digital world has come under the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority with strict new codes, bringing it in line with off-line advertising.

This is good news for the consumer but is something of a wake up call for companies to ensure that websites are ASA compliant. The new regulations call for all online retailing, advertising, sales promotions and direct marketing to be accurate and honest about a product or service. Claims that promise to double your income, are risk free, or advertise schemes that will deliver overnight results are outlawed. A guaranteed delivery assurance has to show clearly under what conditions this may not be met. Bait and switch offers where an advertised product is no longer available and a higher priced item substituted will contravene the new code. If the special offer is no longer valid it should be removed from the website. The ASA by the way, doesn’t differentiate between marketing which sets out to deceive you from that which unintentionally fails to reflect the true facts and leaves the consumer with the wrong impression.

The regulations state that a company should avoid exaggerating statements and must hold documentary evidence supporting claims of how much a consumer can save by purchasing a product or service. So called ‘testimonials’ displayed on a web page will be closely scrutinised for validity. Viewing a new website recently for a local care home which isn’t due to open for another month, showed testimonials from a ‘relative’ enthusing on how well Dad is being looked after, and another on how friendly and welcoming the staff are on every visit. As the home isn’t yet operational and has no residents, this is an obvious contravention of the ASA code. Customer reviews and testimonials have to be supported with written evidence of the recommendation and the name and address of the person supplying the testimonial must be available on request.

Now we come to the social media platforms! The new regulations for online marketing also includes all unpaid advertising and marketing communication through networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube or Linkedin which is under your control. You are now longer free to post derogatory comments about a competitor (as if you would)! The code states “Marketers must not unfairly portray or refer to anyone in an adverse or offensive way unless that person has given the marketer written permission to allow it”. That’s unlikely to happen then!

Where does it leave those of us with a website? The regulations came into force earlier this year on March 1st and companies have been given 6 months from this date to comply or face being named and shamed, have their paid-for search advertising removed and the ASA may place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser’s non-compliance. Essentially this would mean that if your company name was typed into one of the Search Engines the warning about your false or misleading marketing would come up first. Bear in mind that Google have donated considerable seed funding to the implementation of the new regulations.

It’s essential that you read through the code  thoroughly and then review your website copy ensuring you’re able to back-up all of your claims. Remove anything which you can’t substantiate or which you believe falls into a grey area, or for peace of mind have a professional health-check carried out on all of your website copy.

Honesty will definitely be the best policy!