What the ASA’s new online remit means for web copywriters

26 April, 2011

Has the web copywriter’s role just been made more difficult and dangerous? And if so, what should we be doing about it?

As you probably know, on 1st March 2011 the ASA’s online remit was extended to cover all marketing messages online. This means that their rules about misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children now apply to corporate websites. And when a complaint about misleading web copy is upheld, the ASA certainly has the clout to take action – within the UK at least.

This means that as a web copywriter, the weight of responsibility on your shoulders just increased.

Lots of advice online

I’m not suggesting that the new ASA remit is a bad thing. As a consumer, I like having my rights looked after; and as a copywriter I welcome anything that can enhance the quality and credibility of British web marketing. But what of the practicalities? How can you make sure you don’t fall foul of a complaint?

As with any question these days, the answers are online. The Code of Advertising Practice (CAP) has tried to make things as easy as possible by providing some helpful advice on its own website. CAP has also set up Copy Advice, a website that offers exactly what you’d expect it to – although its website auditing service isn’t too accessible at a cost of £800 plus VAT per site.

Having read these pages, I don’t feel the need to change my approach to writing web copy – and I doubt any good professional will.

Dangers ahead?

So what do the ASA’s new powers really mean for web copywriters? Here are my predictions:

  • We’ll all take fewer creative risks. We should see the ASA’s new powers as a postive step towards improving the standard of web marketing, not as a shackle on our creativity. But in choosing between edgy, original ideas and a more conservative approach, will we – or our clients – now be more inclined to play it safe? Time will tell.
  • ‘ASA compliance’ will become a web copy buzz term. It’s only a matter of time before the media reports on the first upheld complaint against a high profile website. Once that happens, nervous marketing departments all over Britain will want to make sure it doesn’t happen to them – and savvy copywriters will be quick to reassure them that it won’t. Make sure you’re familiar with the ASA’s guidelines.
  • Professional indemnity insurance will be more valuable than ever. After all, one poor decision could cost your clients dearly in damaged reputations, web pages that need to be rewritten and beyond. Yes it’s another overhead, but insurance could now be a great selling point when looking for work.

So where’s the danger I mentioned at the top of this article? By the looks of things, if you’re an ethical writer of quality web copy, there probably isn’t any. It’ll be interesting to follow the ASA’s rulings though – there could still be a few twists and turns up ahead.

Written by Neil Wheatley

Neil Wheatley is a Manchester-based freelance copywriter who writes for agencies and marketing depts across the UK. He isn’t this grumpy in person.

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