Online marketers should be indecently intimate with the Dot Com Disclosures.
Created by the United States Federal Trade Commission, the document “describes the information businesses should consider as they develop online ads” and promotional campaigns, including social media marketing initiatives. Or, in less formal speech: it’s the online marketing rule book created by the nation’s “consumer watchdog”; violations can run in the millions.
The only problem with the Dot Com Disclosures is that they’re a bit vague, which has resulted in inconsistent enforcement and punishments.
A Twitter-Length Summary of the Dot Com Disclosures
If, however, the legal gods demanded a Twitter-length summary of the Dot Com Disclosures, we’d say: Don’t trick people with coding and design deception or fine print clauses. Doing so may land you in the poor house, courtesy of an FTC fine.
FTC Dot Com Disclosures Guide Rule #1: Place Disclosures close To the Things they’re Referencing and Make Sure They’re Understandable to the Average Person
“Clear and conspicuous” is the legal language standard for all terms of service, privacy and marketing disclosures – both online and off.
If users have a legal right to know a fact before enrolling in a program or buying a product, let them know! Don’t try to weasel recurrent billing charges and other sneaky stipulations into fine-print clauses tucked behind invisible links.
FTC Dot Com Disclosures Guide Rule #2: Label Links & Native Advertising
Trying to hide disclosures – and links to disclosures – can land you on the FTC’s naughty list. Commissioners don’t take kindly to small-fonted links placed far askew from the thing they’re addressing. Same goes for trying to hide text or hyperlinks via color (i.e., dark gray links on a dark gray background.)
Also, if a piece of content on your site is sponsored, don’t bury the required “sponsored” label. Make sure it is “clear and conspicuous” near the starting reading point (i.e., top of the post for native advertising disguised as a blog entry).
FTC Dot Com Disclosures Guide Rule #3: Don’t Send Users on a Terms and Conditions Chase
If you have a link that leads to a terms and conditions agreement, it must take the user directly to the applicable information. Again, trying to swindle users with design and fine print chicanery will anger the FTC. And, you could wind up on the hook for some hefty fines if you’re not careful.
FTC Dot Com Disclosures Guide Rule #4: You Are Your Affiliates’ Keeper
The Dot Com Disclosures also go over affiliate marketing monitoring standards. The gist of the FTC’s position: If you use affiliates to market your product or service, you’re responsible for monitoring their actions to ensure FTC compliance.
If you run an affiliate marketing network and need a lawyer to review your campaign, get in touch. A couple of hundred dollars now may save you millions in FTC fines down the road.
Did you find this FTC Dot Com Disclosures Guide helpful? If yes, check out the Kelly Warner Internet Law Blog!