Updated FTC Guidelines: What it Means For Marketers

“If it’s on the internet, it must be true,” is a common jest. However, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t find deceptive online advertising a laughing matter. The FTC recently updated the .com disclosure document, originally released in 2000, to protect consumers against illusive and false online product and service promotions. The updates were in response to new forms of social media and the interpretation challenges it may present to the consumer. So, what do you need to know? Here’s a brief rundown of the major changes.

Mobile

In the example below, the FTC illustrates how viewing a website not optimized for mobile devices on a smart phone may prevent the consumer from reading key details. Requiring a consumer to scroll, or know when to scroll, to find imperative information is a no-no. Formats must be taken into consideration to guarantee disclosures are visible to the consumer on any mobile screen.

Hyperlinks

The FTC further defined the use of hyperlinks to ensure integral disclosures are not hidden behind the hyperlinks. The FTC isn’t against advertisers using hyperlinks to share details not vital to the claim, but the copy linked must adequately convey the nature and importance of the information in question. In the example below, the hyperlink is clearly admitting a restocking fee on returned items. The unacceptable method would be to simply attach the link to “Satisfaction Guaranteed.”
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Space

The FTC also won’t take space-constraints as an excuse to forgo online disclosures. The disclosure must fit within 140 characters on Twitter, and using a shortened link to direct people to the information is not acceptable. Here is an example of an acceptable sponsored tweet.

The disclosure must also be located as near to the claim as possible. The FTC gave the example of selling imitation pearls in the guidelines document. The word “imitation” must immediately precede the word “pearl.” The disclosure should not be declared in a link the consumer is expected to click or located at another area of the page. Appropriate hyperlinks should also be adjacent the claim.

Icons, Abbreviations and Symbols

If shortened terms or symbols don’t clearly explain the nature of the disclosure, or if consumers don’t understand the meaning, then the online promotion is considered illegal. Again, adding a hyperlink to an icon, abbreviation or symbol is not an acceptable way to communicate the disclosure.

Timing

Timelines cannot be used to the advertiser’s advantage. For example, sending a tweet with a disclaimer following a sponsored tweet without a disclaimer is not an acceptable way to communicate with consumers. Nor can you post a disclaimer on Facebook at midnight, seven hours after the promoted post.

The Bottom Line

The same guidelines that apply to traditional advertising apply to cyberspace. Online advertisements must disclose any sponsorship and integral information imperative to a claim in a direct, visible manner.

So, do you think consumers will notice a difference in social media advertising? Do you think we’ll see less celebrities tweeting about products if they have to announce their paycheck in doing so? Let us know what you think!

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