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
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
‘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
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.