Restrictions on Commercial Communications Take Force in May

15 April 2008

‘Seeders’ and buzz marketers beware. Next month sees the introduction of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act in the UK.

Under the legislation, which comes into force on 26 May 2008, strict regulations will be placed on commercial communications. One particular clause will make the following a criminal offence:

Falsely claiming or creating the impression that the trader is not acting for the purposes relating to his trade, business, craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a consumer.

According to the IPA, this will catch marketing activities such as:

  • seeding positive messages about a brand in a blog without stating that the message has been created by or on behalf of the brand;
  • using buzz marketing specialists to communicate with consumers in social situations without disclosing they are acting for the brand;
  • seeding viral ads on the internet that implies you are a simple [sic] member of the public.

The social media naysayers are already out proclaiming this as the death of blogger relations, but they obviously haven’t read it properly. The Act is designed to protect consumers from those who do not disclose their true identity (such as hiding behind a pseudonym), not marketers who are transparent and honest about their motives behind building online relationships.

So most PR agencies will have nothing to worry about (I can’t speak for the advertising agencies) as long as they follow some of the de facto guidance abundant online.

I think it does illustrate the compromise that marketers have to make though. If – as a consumer – I genuinely recommend a product that happens to be my client, am I really not allowed to tell people? If not, isn’t that an infringement of my human rights?

My main criticism of this legislation is therefore that it will have no effect because it is going to be impossible to police (or prove guilt), which is a shame.

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2 Responses to “Restrictions on Commercial Communications Take Force in May”

  1. UK Web PR regulations

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  2. Mariana Sarceda

    It’s an interesting policy though, I agree, difficult to put into practice. PR pros and marketing pros should act ethically correct towards the company they work for and the clients. I guess that most pros won’t have any problem complying with this new rule, though it may raise some eyebrows on some really picky people.

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