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UK Ad Group Unveils Web Seal

A British ad industry watchdog group Tuesday introduced a symbol designed to boost consumer confidence in online advertising and marketing.

The "admark" graphic, essentially the word "ad" with a halo, was designed by the U.K.'s self-regulating Committee of Advertising Practice and will be included by members on all Web ads, e-mail mailings and promotional marketing sites to demonstrate compliance with CAP regulations.

Those regulations, first drafted in the 1960's by CAP's parent, the Advertising Standards Authority, endorse general principles of honesty, decency, and fair competition in non-broadcast advertising.

Members must observe the rules but are not obliged to have their online advertisements and promotions checked in advance. Instead, the ASA monitors ads and follows up on complaints by consumers and competitors.

ASA leverages its sizable partnerships, trade affiliations and government sponsorship in incidents of rule violation. Penalties for breaking ASA regulations include refusal of advertising space by affiliated publishers, voiding of trade association memberships, disqualification from awards, and legal prosecution -- in the case of persistent or deliberately misleading ads.

The admark does not cover organizations' Web sites, and neither do the ASA regulations.

The CAP said the admark device is intended to help consumers recognize legitimate advertisers, and to legitimize a burgeoning industry in the eyes of government regulators.

"Members can show that they are credible by pledging support for the rules and displaying the admark icon on their 'paid for' ads and Web sites," CAP said in a statement. "They can play a part in building consumer trust in online advertising. And they can play a part in increasing the confidence of government, consumer groups and opinion formers."

The program's founding sponsors include U.S. ad serving and technology firms 24/7 Media and Engage, which is wholly owned by CMGI. Britain's Royal Mail delivery service -- which also functions as a traditional direct mail company -- is also a founding member of the alliance. The founding sponsors are exempt from admark membership dues -- about $360 per online brand.

The U.S.'s self-regulatory Internet Advertising Bureau, and the U.K.'s chief advertiser lobby group, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, are both affiliates of the CAP.