By Ben Simmons

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) this week launched the latest in its series of papers on marketing and the law, updating the guidance on regulation affecting marketers.

The paper, ‘I’m not a lawyer, but...’ draws attention to the harmonisation of consumer law across the EU, along with other recent regulatory changes, and the Institute is urging marketers to ensure that their legal knowledge is sufficiently comprehensive and up to date.

With 87% of marketers saying that they have poor or non-existent knowledge of the CAP and BCAP Codes*, the paper argues that the marketing profession leaves itself open to challenge and legal redress if and when mistakes are made.

The paper highlights how the letter of the law can be open to interpretation in different ways. Rather than asking the extent to which the law is applied, it’s far more effective to base marketing practices on ethical, responsible foundations — and ask objectively, ‘how would this look?’ This helps with brand building, avoids potential contention in litigious cases and leads to a relationship between company and customer based on trust, rather than wariness or uncertainty.

Recent changes to laws governing advertising online draw attention to the importance of both an up-to-date knowledge of regulation and a transparent, moral approach to marketing through digital channels. With the CAP code now extended to cover online as well as offline activity, the report suggests that marketers need to be especially careful to ensure their activities are legal and ethical. The recent addition to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations mean that it’s now illegal for websites to store without explicit permission cookies that are not ‘essential’ to the site’s operation. Many companies are not yet compliant with this law — and they only have until May 2012 to ensure that they bring their sites up to standard.

Mark Blayney Stuart, head of research at the Institute, said: “It’s concerning that so few marketers have a clear understanding of the regulatory environment in which they practice. An up-to-date knowledge of the law and how it applies to you is essential for professional marketers — and it can also bring significant personal career benefits. With so many recent changes to consumer and marketing laws, it’s never been more important for marketers to familiarise themselves with their legal environment.

“The bottom line for marketers must always be the question of whether the practice in question would harm, or be likely to harm, the economic interests of the average consumer. If marketers act ethically and transparently with the customer always in mind, as well as within the letter of the law, they have nothing to fear. Learning more about the legal environment is a vital first step towards this.”