Digital marketing and online advertising have been growing at a consistently exponential rate for the past decade, and form a vital part of the online economy. Many technology giants rely on online advertising for the vast majority of their revenue streams, but online advertising brings with it particular technical requirements, which pose a risk of embarrassing regulatory action for the advertiser who does not adhere to them.

Legal minefield

There is a complex web of different law, guidance and regulation to consider when undertaking advertising online, governing various aspects from consumer protection to intellectual property.

All advertising must meet certain standards (such as legality, decency, honesty and social responsibility), and there are additional specific requirements for certain products.

Particular care should be taken with advertising via social media, as despite the often informal nature of the content, it is still governed by the ASA, and does lead to adjudications against advertisers who do not conform with the relevant guidance.

Social media advertising

Advertising on social media is now a vital part of any modern public-facing company’s business. It is essential in creating and maintaining a brand identity, particularly with a younger audience.

It brings with it, however, a unique set of challenges. The Internet Advertising Bureau UK has a specific set of guidelines (the IAB guidelines), which set out the code of acceptable practice by advertisers in relation to payment for social media content which promotes brands.

Essentially, it must be made obviously clear to a consumer of editorial content which promotes a product, such as a tweet by a well-known personality or a video posted online, that the person concerned has been paid to promote it.

A practice which many advertisers have started to use in recent years is to include a word or hashtag in the relevant post in order to make clear that it is sponsored content – “#spon” has specifically been upheld by the ASA when challenged, and it has also recommended the identifier “#ad”.

In addition to the legal framework and extensive industry regulation in this area, advertisers should be aware of sites’ terms of service – Facebook’s, for instance, do not permit individuals to post paid-for content on their pages. Advertisers should be cautious in noting the different terms of service across different social media platforms, and work with their partners accordingly.