I woke this morning to details of the ASA’s tightening of the rules on its CAP code to cover digital media evolution. Since then many others have blogged about the intentions, the implications and the practicalities for brands using social media, and in particular for ‘modern’ PR. Meanwhile, I have been sat in meetings scoffing bagels, so am way off the pace.
So let’s get to it. Firstly, the ASA’s landmark agreement is a positive one overall for marketing in that it is an attempt to apply, broadly, the same principles to the online world as to conventional media. The devil will be in the detail and it’s right that far more clarity is needed on definitions, but for me today’s announcement does one thing that’s very helpful to PRs – underlines that there is a fundamental difference between editorial content and bought ‘promotion’ in social media.
Until now, with the ASA’s clout applied to making the distinction, the lines have been blurred. PR firms have touted campaigns that use social media which are, probably, encroaching on advertising. The ad agencies are certainly doing their utmost to encroach on PR – some even implying that PR is redundant where media reaches audiences directly. Social media agencies have exploited the jiggery-pokery by delivering campaigns that ignore those arguments and focus on reaching the right people using just social media. At least that’s what they’ll tell you.
With the ASA’s point – about editorial content being exempt from the legislation because doing so would impair freedom of speech – ringing in my ears, my thinking is that proper rules about how brands should conduct themselves in new media will be an asset to PR firms rather than a drag. We have enough on our plates trying to modernise to fit the needs of changing media without having to fight constant turf wars about where and how influence can fairly be exerted.
That said, where there are rules there are always those with an interest in challenging them, and it probably won’t be long before – unless clinically defined – the boundaries of what constitutes editorial will be tested. One thing is for sure: the ASA has its work cut out legislating for all of this, given the pace at which media is evolving.