The CAP Code was extended on 1st March, 2011 - The revised code will extend the Advertising Standards Authority's remit to include online marketing communications.
The PRCA and ASA could not envisage any situation where practitioners might contravene the CAP Code without also being in breach of the PRCA's Professional Charter, consumer legislation or other trading standards.
While the extended remit should not ostensibly provide any cause for concern for ethical PR practitioners, it does not mean that all public relations activities and materials that take place online (or offline) will be exempt from the ASA's remit. Although it will be possible for public relations materials to contravene the CAP Code, the PRCA and ASA were unable to envisage any situation where practitioners might contravene the CAP Code without also being in breach of the PRCA's Professional Charter, consumer legislation or other trading standards.
The PRCA and ASA accept that there will be grey areas when the extension to the Code comes into effect on 1st March. If PRCA members have any questions as to whether something is likely to be affected by the CAP Code or infringe on it, please send your query to the PRCA who will work with the ASA to clarify the situation speedily. Going forward the ASA will provide a free helpline to answer any queries.
In summary the CAP Code applies to any communication (online or offline) designed to drive sales. Examples of areas of public relations that would be covered by the extension to the Code, though would not necessarily contravene the Code include:
- The brand (or its agency) actively promoting endorsements from 3rd parties;
- Distributing materials to third party sites that will publish them without any policing of the message ie SEO press releases;
- Endorsements by third parties incentivised by the brand or its agency;
- Posting endorsements without disclosing your affiliation to the brand i.e. astroturfing. NB - astroturfing contravenes the PRCA Professional Charter and the CAP code already.