ASA rule on Amazon catalogue data

ASA FeatAmazon just fell foul of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for using catalogue data. It’s all over a complaint that he product description for a book called “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles” suggested that children can heal naturally and successfully from measles without seeing the doctor and suggesting that vaccination isn’t the only option.

Amazon pointed out that the text was replicated verbatim from the back cover of the book and had appeared on the site by way of an automatic feed from a third party. As with many books, Amazon merely reproduce the author or publishers own comments to give potential buyers a guide as to whether they should purchase the book. Reproducing the text, say Amazon, does not necessarily reflect Amazon’s own perspective.

The ASA decision acknowledged Amazon’s argument, but stated “We did not consider that the process by which the text had appeared on the website relieved Amazon of its responsibility to ensure that the content – which we understood they were able to alter or remove if necessary – complied with the CAP Code” (Committee of Advertising Practice Code).

The ASA reasoning was that “The CAP Code stipulated that marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. We noted that measles would fall into that category because it was an infectious disease that could give rise to serious complications“.

Implications for all online retailers

This ruling has the potential to affect all online retailers using catalogue data on their websites. The problem of course is, that if you’re uploading 100s, 1000s or even 10s of 1000s of products from catalogue data, you won’t be checking each and every description manually. That is after all the whole point of catalogue data.

However it appears that you’re still responsible for ensuring that the data falls within the CAP Code. It would of course be nice if all the catalogue data was sanitised and approved to ASA standards, but that’s unlikely to be the case. The chances are that those assembling catalogue data don’t even read the descriptions themselves but simply gather it from publishers and manufacturers.