LONDON: COI Communications, the administrative interface between the British government and its roster of advertising and marketing agencies, has joined several other major British advertisers in withdrawing marketing messages from US-based social networking website Facebook.

The COI's media buying-agency i-level has been asked to stop placing government campaigns on sites that include user-generated content.

The organisation, which spent £10.4m ($21m; €15.2m) on digital ads during 2006, made its decision following similar moves by Virgin Media, Vodafone and Pru Health, among others.

The firms became alarmed when their ads appeared on a Facebook page belonging to the rightist, anti-immigration British National Party.

The COI ban will remain until online media owners can guarantee that advertising will not be placed alongside content that could potentially tarnish a marketer's reputation by association.

Comments Jamie Galloway, COI director of digital media: "Advertising has been paused temporarily on any websites that have not provided COI and i-level with the assurances our bookings require."

Internet Advertising Bureau ceo Guy Phillipson has urged social networking sites to come up with a set of rules that define a 'safe' page, otherwise they run the risk of losing more advertisers and severely damaging their revenue stream.

Opines Henry Ellis of online advertising consultancy Tamar: "My guess is that Facebook will tell its advertisers that if they want greater control over where their ads appear it can do that for them, but that as a result, its costs and its advertising rates will go up."

Facebook, which expects to take more than $100 million in ad revenues this year, has so far refused to comment.

Data sourced from Brand Republic (UK) and The Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff