ANALYSIS: ASA looks to widen its Net

The ASA has set its sights on extending its authority over the chaotic and amorphous World Wide Web, writes Sharon Marshall

The ASA has set its sights on extending its authority over the chaotic

and amorphous World Wide Web, writes Sharon Marshall

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld an objection to the Cable

Communication Association’s Internet ad about its positioning of fibre-

optic cabling in a diagram.

Hardly controversial stuff for a medium which has carried information on

paedophilia and bomb making, but it is an important ruling for the

advertising industry.

The Internet is gaining credibility as a commercial medium. As its

financial security improves, more firms are looking to use it. Compared

with press and posters, this is a medium in its infancy, but it is one

which the ASA is determined should be just as mindful of the British

Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion.

‘That’s a little farcical isn’t it? I mean how do they think they’re

going to monitor it?’ asks Alex Johnston, creative director of Freud

Communications, who was behind the firm’s recent sponsorship of a

Supergrass concert on the Web to promote Vladivar vodka.

The ASA missed this one. The group’s members are all aged under 25 and

have a great appeal in the teen market - so this sponsorship didn’t

entirely comply with alcohol advertising codes.

Johnson has a point. Monitoring the nebulous Web is an impossible task.

But the ASA argues that it is vital the industry should be encouraged to

become self-regulating.

‘The Web is designed to evade regulation,’ says Caroline Crawford, the

ASA’s director of communications. ‘If the Net is to develop as a

credible medium then it must use the industry’s codes.’

Industry observers agree. ‘Advertising will be the mainstay of income

for the Web. If we don’t get it right then there is no future,’ says

Cliff Stanford, managing director of Demon Internet.

It’s a good point. The question is, what exactly is the advertising

industry going to do about it. One of the attractions of the Web is its

low cost.

Two of the ASA’s most powerful weapons are peer pressure and the threat

of adverse publicity. This may well deter major advertisers but such

threats will be ignored by mavericks on tiny budgets.

Last year, Friends of the Earth ran ads on the Internet accusing loggers

in the Brazilian rain forest of murder. The ads had already been banned

from cinemas. The ASA does have the power to refer persistent offenders

to the Office of Fair Trading for legal action, but this sort of action

for all offenders is on the expensive side.

The Web’s future is dependent on ad revenue and it must ensure the ads

are reputable. Its content is already known for being on the seedier

side of broadcasting. It will need more action from the industry to

ensure that its advertising can, in contrast, be self-regulating.


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