LONDON: The Advertising Standards Authority, the UK ad industry's regulatory body, will have its remit extended to cover brand websites, social networks and similar tools from March 2011.

Marketing messages hosted on advertisers' corporate websites - as well as those on other "non-paid-for space" under their control - are to be regulated.

The oversight function will apply to properties such as Twitter and Facebook, reflecting the rapid growth of these services among netizens and brands alike.

"Social networking websites have a significant consumer reach, are popular with children and young people and play an increasing role in public policy debates," the ASA's Committee of Advertising Practice stated.

Advergames, mobile apps and user-generated content solicited by companies, or which is subsequently incorporated into their corporate campaigns, also now face heightened scrutiny.

"We have received over 4,500 complaints since 2008 about marketing communications on websites that we couldn't deal with," said Chris Smith, chairman of the ASA.

"When this goes live next March this will be the most comprehensive approach to the regulation of advertising in website space anywhere in the world."

The ASA's document outlining the proposals argued that "the growing level and changing nature of marketing in the digital space", and the need to protect "children, young people and vulnerable adults" made such a move necessary.

Criteria for judging possible infringements include the context and content in which the alleged breach occurred and if there is an "invitation to purchase."

"The assessment must consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether it can be reasonably assumed that the advertiser intended to sell something (the primary purpose of a marketing communication," the CAP said.

Companies contravening the updated protocol and failing to amend or withdraw the offending material may feature in search ads "highlighting an advertiser's continued non-compliance."

Further sanctions include providing details of the organisation and communications concerned on a dedicated section of the ASA's website, and removing paid search links to the content in question with the approval of the firm hosting the ad.

Alongside a £200,000 donation from Google, the standard levy of 0.1% on paid-for media placement will be made applicable to agencies buying internet ads.

"Self-regulation is a faster and cheaper alternative to statutory regulation and its value, as a complement to statutory control," the study added.

Data sourced from ASA/Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff