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New FTC rules clarify the laws on sponsored social media content

The FTC just released an update to their “.com Disclosures” guide — the biggest update on social media disclosure laws since the 2009 update to their Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, and the first update to the .com Disclosures since 2000.

The biggest addition: Making it painfully clear that disclosure must always be clear and conspicuous, no matter what platform you’re advertising on.

Most notably, they offer a tweet-by-tweet example of how to properly disclose a sponsored tweet — complete with screenshots and detailed explanations of what is and isn’t acceptable.

More highlights from the updates:

  • Bogus, advertiser-invented hashtags don’t constitute real disclosure: “Consumers might not understand that ‘#spon’ means that the message was sponsored by an advertiser. If a significant proportion of reasonable viewers would not, then the ad would be deceptive.”
  • Limited space isn’t an excuse: “If a disclosure is necessary to prevent an advertisement from being deceptive, unfair, or otherwise violative of a Commission rule, and it is not possible to make the disclosure clearly and conspicuously, then that ad should not be disseminated.”
  • Clear and conspicuous means clear and conspicuous: “The blogger in this example obtained the paint she is reviewing for free and must disclose that fact. Although she does so at the end of her blog post, there are several hyperlinks before that disclosure that could distract readers and cause them to click away before they get to the end of the post. Given these distractions, the disclosure likely is not clear and conspicuous.”

With this update, the FTC has done an incredibly-detailed job of clarifying what honest marketers already knew and practiced: Lying and failing to properly disclose in any advertisement — in any medium — is illegal and has been for more than 50 years.

This is a real win for all of us — consumers, advertisers, and social media users alike.

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