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Key legal changes in Marketing

Within the UK Marketing and Advertising professions there are regulations and legal guidance that marketers need to understand and keep up to date with. To be successful within a marketing job, you will have to apply this guidance to your everyday work to ensure compliance with all relevant regulations.

Purpose of a Marketing Department and Marketing Compliance

Good marketing is at the core of any successful brand, service, or product. The marketing department plays a vital role in promoting the company’s mission, business message and brand image.

It is the marketing department’s job to deliver the overarching company image and ensure their brand is always seen in a positive light. Some of the ways to achieve this is by delivering targeted advertising and social media campaigns, promotional events, company brochures, or celebrity endorsements to communicate with customers, prospects, investors, and the wider community.

The main functions of a marketing department could include market research, product development, defining and managing the brand, promotional materials, campaign management, marketing incentives, creating content and search engine optimisation (SEO), managing and monitoring social media channels, internal marketing communications, media liaison, public relations, customer profiling, building relationships with outside vendors and overseeing external agencies.

Within a marketing department you will typically find the following roles:

In the fast-paced world of marketing, it can be difficult to remain aware of all the current and updated rules and laws. It is vital that everyone in a marketing department has a basic understanding of the required compliancy standards and how they apply to their role.

The repercussions to not observing marketing compliance could devastate a business, as there are heavy fines involved for not following the correct procedures. You also risk losing the trust of your customers and damaging your company image and brand integrity.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and cookies

In May 2018, one of the biggest updates to date within this sector was introduced, the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) tailored by the Data Protection Act.

GDPR governs how the digital data a company holds on their customers and staff can be used, stored, and shared. As a result, all companies and departments had to adjust to remain compliant with the updated laws. These changes included:

  • Building privacy settings into their websites and digital products, with any default privacy settings switched on.
  • Documenting the way personal data is used.
  • Strengthening how permission is obtained to use the data.
  • Conducting regular privacy impact assessments.
  • Improving how data breaches are communicated.

The main impact for marketing departments nationwide were the new rules governing the consent needed for them to utilise the data they gathered, known as the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). Companies can no longer assume that customers and prospects are happy to be contacted, they have to consent in a ‘freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous’ way.

As data gathering technology evolves and marketing trends change, the GDPR is regularly updated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to continue safeguarding customers. Click here for the latest updates.

Many marketing functions use the data gathered from cookies, that digitally record a user’s online activity and information about their preferences when on a website. To gather this data, consent must be ‘actively and clearly’ given by the user. Marketeers can use this data to create better online customer interactions, generate targeted advertising, store useful customer data, save user preferences, authenticate account details, and record user activity.

However, the UK Government is considering withdrawing the cookie consent law, as many users accept the cookies terms of use without reading them, simply because they want to access a website. To stay up to date with any changes to the PECR, click here.

New guidance on direct marketing and the public sector

Directly communicating (by whatever means) with a prospect or existing customer for marketing or advertising purposes is known as Direct Marketing. This form of communication usually produces a greater rate of return as it is often highly targeted towards a certain demographic. Most Direct Marketing is done via a digital platform these days, which means the PECR and GDPR both apply.

In August 2021, new Direct Marketing guidance aimed at those responsible for data protection within public sector organisations was issued by the ICO. Direct messages that are sent by public sector organisations to individuals that are deemed to be necessary for their task or function, are no longer classed as Direct Marketing. However, these messages will still need to comply with UK GDPR.

When a public sector organisation sends a communication to their users that promotes any paid for services or for fundraising purposes, they will continue to be classed as Direct Marketing and be subjected to the usual rules.

If you work in the public sector, these new rules and exclusions can seem very confusing. For an ‘at a glance’ summary of the rules, click here.

Advertising regulations

If you work in Marketing, you should be aware of the advertising standards, and any recent updates or trends within this sector.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent regulator across all types of media. Although there are different rules depending on what medium you are using, the ASA’s main message is that all adverts must be legal, decent, honest, and truthful.

The ASA investigates any customer complaints and monitors adverts in sectors such as gambling and alcohol, which are of social concern. Products advertised that relate to COVID-19 have been added to the ASA’s monitoring list.

The ASA works alongside the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), who write the Advertising Codes, which cover non-broadcast and broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing. For more information visit the ASA and CAP website.

As a marketing professional it is vital that you understand and remain up to date with the current regulations and legal guidance that apply to Direct Marketing and Advertising. Remaining compliant across all forms of media and customer communication is an essential part of being a successful marketer. 

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