Earlier this month the FTC updated its online advertising disclosure rules. They’re intended to protect the public from online promotions that may be “deceptive or unfair” in the absence of clear disclosures that they’re compensated advertising.
Advertising and promotional messaging on social and mobile media are at least partly responsible for the update of the guidelines, which is the first such update since they were originally issued in 2000.
Some commentators (e.g., Fox Business) complain that the US is now trying to regulate the Internet in new ways that will impede online advertising. The FTC says it’s merely trying to ensure compliance with existing law and protect consumers against new types of advertising that would otherwise be “deceptive or unfair.”
In the report are highly specific examples of ads that are compliant as well as some that are non-compliant — and why. It discusses “space constrained messages” (i.e., Twitter) at some length.
Below is an example of a disclosure-compliant Twitter post. The FTC says this message works because it uses the term “Ad” in the tweet, while it also doesn’t mislead readers about likely success (“Typical loss: 1lb/wk”).
Below are examples of non-compliant tweets:
In the first case above, there’s an initial promotional message (bottom tweet) and a disclosure (top tweet). However, the separation of the two messages makes it possible that consumers won’t see the disclosure along with the ad and think the statement was an unpaid endorsement.
In the example below, the disclosure resides on another page behind a link. In such cases, the FTC fears that consumers will simply read the message and ignore the link — thus never being exposed to the disclosure. Accordingly, the agency strongly advises against using links to support disclosures on separate pages.
In the context of social media, the rules and examples seem aimed particularly at celebrities such as Kim Kardashian who derive large sums to promote products on social media. Indeed, Kardashian was reportedly getting $10,000 per promotional tweet at one time (it still may be true). Her relatively naive fans could easily and uncritically misconstrue these tweets as personal recommendations — which is precisely the point from the sponsor’s point of view.
There are many more concrete examples of non-compliant and acceptable social and mobile ads in the report, which is embedded below. It can also be downloaded here.