Recent events have proved conclusively that the advertising watchdog’s bite can be every bit as bad as its bark when it comes to online adverts by grocery businesses.

Only last month, the ASA launched an investigation into tweets by Katie Price and Rio Ferdinand after they posted pictures of themselves with Snickers bars. The watchdog had received complaints and is investigating whether this breaches its code.

Since its remit was extended to cover non-paid-for online advertising last year, the ASA has censured a growing number of suppliers and retailers that have breached its online code. Only last month it upheld a complaint against Cott Beverages about a competition on its website for a family holiday in Florida after finding the exclusion of school holidays was not clear enough.

Since its powers were extended in March last year, the number of complaints received by the ASA has risen by 40%. A significant number involve food and drink companies. Given the rise in online food and drink trading, it is clear regulation is important. However, there are concerns the extension has gone too far, with regulations impacting the sector’s scope to promote its products.

In the month the ASA’s remit was extended, ice cream maker Mackie’s was investigated for environmental claims on its website. The complaint was not upheld but it clearly demonstrated the regulator would exercise its powers in this area.

In November, the ASA found against mineral water firm Isklar in relation to a Facebook ad, and in August alcoholic drinks firm Cell Drinks was required to remove video clips from YouTube and Facebook after they were deemed irresponsible for allegedly targeting underage drinkers.

The rules and criteria applicable to digital marketing are the same as those for traditional media - ads must not be misleading, exaggerated or offensive. However, the nature of online advertising means it is more difficult to control, more widely read and more difficult to take down. As a result, potential exposure to complaint - and sanction - is increased.

The message is clear - the industry needs to think long and hard about the potential consequences of embarking on an online ad campaign.