Is this you?
You hear that you can make money online. You’re a bit skeptical, but you investigate further. You find out that it really is possible to have a business as an Internet marketer. You can sell your own products or act as an affiliate to sell products made by other individuals or companies.
“Cool!” you think. You get busy learning everything you can about setting up a website, getting traffic to your site, writing content, possibly starting a mailing list …
But did you check out the FTC Rules and Guidelines for how you can legally advertise online?
I ask because I had only a vague awareness of them until I saw some talk that they’d been updated.
I visited the Federal Trade Commission’s website and found this link: .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising. It’s a PDF put out by the FTC updating their previous guidelines. It was just released this month.
It’s actually not a hard read, and it’s well worth your time to read it if you’re doing Internet marketing in the United States.
I’m going to summarize it in this post, but please keep this in mind: I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I’m also not an employee or representative of the FTC. I’m just a reasonably intelligent person with good reading comprehension skills.
In other words, my summary is a good one, but don’t use it as legal advice.
In short, the FTC is saying that if you’re advertising something online, your ad needs to present the facts. If anything in your ad might be confusing or might not tell the whole story, you need to include a disclosure of the additional information that a consumer needs. That disclosure needs to be easy to understand. It also needs to be very, very visible to the consumer so that there is no chance they could miss it.
An advertiser has a responsibility to create ads that are:
- not misleading
- substantiated (that is, claims made in the ad can be proven)
If a claim is made in an ad, and the claim has limits or qualifications that aren’t clearly stated in the claim, the advertiser must disclose those limits or qualifications.
The following is my example, not the FTC’s: A satellite company offers you a discounted rate and bonus channels if you subscribe to their service. If the discounted rate is only for a certain time (there are limits), the company must tell you. If you have to subscribe to a certain number of channels to get the reduced rate (qualification), the company must tell you.
As the advertiser, there are guidelines about the disclosure you have to make. It needs to be:
- clear and conspicuous
- close to the claim that you’re disclosing information about if possible
- written in easy-to-understand language
- repeated in multiple places if you have multiple claims
- unavoidable (if you have multiple routes through your site to your ad, none of them should skip the disclosure)
- presented before the opportunity to purchase
If you have a hyperlink leading to your disclosure instead of having it right beside the ad, the hyperlink:
- should be obviously a link
- must be clearly labeled as an important disclosure about the claim
- should stand out from the other text
- should go directly to the disclosure, which should be prominent on the linked page
- and data should be checked to make sure people are following the hyperlink.
A major point that is stressed in .com Disclosures is that people are accessing the Internet in a variety of ways. Smartphones, tablets, etc. are being used in addition to the traditional desktops and laptops.
Because of this, advertisers need to be aware of how their ad displays on each different form of technology. Advertisers need to be sure that disclosures will be clearly visible and accessible no matter how the advertisement is viewed.
Another important point has to do with space-constrained ads such as those found on Twitter. Those ads must be clearly labeled as ads or sponsored posts in a way that a reasonable viewer would understand. The advertiser is also responsible for taking steps to ensure the label isn’t removed – for example, locating the word “Ad” at the beginning of a Tweet to make it less likely someone reTweeting the message will erase that word.
There are also several examples of made-up ads with explanations of what they do right or wrong. It’s definitely worth taking a look at when you have time. Keep in mind, this was just a broad overview. The PDF goes into much more detail.
What do you think about these guidelines? Were you aware of them before reading this post? Do they make sense to you? Let me know what you think in the comments.
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