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New FTC Guidelines Push ‘Clear and Conspicuous’ Online Ad Disclosure

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently shared new online advertising disclosure guidelines to further its efforts to ensure consumers fully understand when monetary or in-kind connections between brands and online influencers exist. The new FTC guidelines, which are effective immediately, require:

  • Advertisers to ensure that the “disclosure is clear and conspicuous on all devices and platforms that consumers may use to view the ad,” including smartphones and tablets. The disclosure must be in legible print size and color in comparison with the rest of the text.
  • Disclosures to be “as close as possible” to a relevant claim. Disclosure statements that have historically been buried in terms and conditions or on a disclosure page is not enough.

In 2009, the FTC caused a similar stir when they required bloggers and other online influencers to disclose material connections with brands (i.e., when monetary or in-kind compensation was at play). Despite social media advocates arguing that the FTC’s guidelines required disclosure in a new media space when existing media wouldn’t be held to the same standards, the FTC has taken steps to fine both the influencer and the company when disclosure falls short. Despite the debate over the differences between online vs. offline influencers, the FTC’s new guidelines show the commission is making online consumers’ interests and protection from deceptive advertising a priority.

What do these new guidelines mean for brands?

While brands should already be taking steps to disclose their relationships with offline and online influencers, here are a few best practices to adopt in the ever-changing regulatory landscape:

  • Seek out bloggers who follow industry guidelines. Reputable bloggers understand why it’s important for their readers to fully understand where brand influence is involved and respect their readers’ trust by disclosing. New guidelines will require bloggers to shift away from the traditional disclosure at the end of a post. The team at Retro Renovation (who we’ve worked with on behalf of several clients) already clearly discloses within their posts and is a great example of how clear and conspicuous disclosure can work.
  • Consider the implications for other influencers beyond bloggers. These guidelines affect more than bloggers. Celebrities, news media and thought leaders speaking about your brand online are just a few of the influencers who have to consider these guidelines as well. Did you negotiate a Facebook post or tweet as part of an ad buy? Be sure to include language such as ‘sponsored’ or ‘ad’ within your copy so that consumers understand the connection. (Note: The FTC specifically called out that using the hashtag #SPON is not enough as it may not be clear to some consumers.)

Ultimately, these new guidelines should help strengthen the relationship between consumers and brands. Instead of taking away from the message being shared, the disclosure informs the consumer that a brand is committed to working with someone the consumer trusts and that the brand respects the consumer in acting transparently.

Our sister agency, Empower MediaMarketing, discussed how these rules will affect content marketing here.

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