By Alan Graner
Part 4 http://www.dsprel.com/ftc-full-disclosure-rules-part-4-material-connections/ discussed material connections.
Truth in advertising applies to all media, whether it’s old media like magazines or new media like social media.
The FTC Guides
On December 1, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published its Guides Concerning the use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, (www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm), its first update since the 1980 Guides.
However, these are guides, not laws. It’s up to the FTC to determine what an endorsement is and whether it violates the Guides.
“FTC full disclosure rules Part 5” is based on “The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking” https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking.
What is an “endorsement”?
Basically any advertising message that consumers believe truly reflect the endorser’s opinions and experiences. In the Guides, the FTC considers testimonials to be endorsements.
If you post a product picture in social media, such as Pinterest, or you post a video of you using a product, it could convey you like and approve the product, in which case it’s an endorsement. If you have a relationship with the company marketing the product, it then becomes an endorsement subject to the FTC Act, which covers only endorsements made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser.
Social media endorsements
You regularly review and endorse software products for your readers. If you pay for the software yourself, no disclosure is required. However, if you’re given the software for free, or you’re paid to give your expert opinion, you must disclose you were paid.
If you return the products soon after you review them, you don’t have to disclose you got them for free. As a general rule, however, being transparent with your readers is always a good idea.
If you review several products you received from advertisers, you must disclose you didn’t pay for them.
Also, the disclosure must be in the video, not in the description uploaded with the video since many people won’t read it.
The disclosure should be at the beginning of the video, not the end. Mentioning it several times during the video is even better.
If you review local establishments and get free products, such as free meals at restaurants you review, you must disclose it.
You can’t solicit favorable reviews by promising people you’ll give them an discount on items bought through your website.
You can’t make a single disclosure on your home page and think you’re covered because many people might go directly to reviews without reading your home page. Disclosures must be made wherever appropriate.
Since you only have 140 characters, it’s unrealistic to expect a long disclosure. Instead you can use words like “Sponsored,” “Promotion” or “Paid ad.” You can also start your tweet with “Ad:’ or #ad.”
Social media endorsements
If a company pays you to be an “ambassador” for them and their products at, say, a conference and you endorse the conference in a tweet, your audience has the right to know about your relationship. You don’t have to make the disclosure, however, if some of your tweets answer questions about the conference that don’t include your opinions. This is not considered an endorsement.
If your Facebook page identifies your employer and you review or recommend one of their products, disclose the relationship.
If an advertiser buys fake “likes” about her products from non-existent people, or people who don’t use the product, they are deceptive, and both the purchaser and the seller of the fake “likes” could face enforcement action.
How to write a disclosure
All you have to write is the essential information such as “Company X sent me the Wonder Widget to try, and I think it’s great.” Or “Some products I’m going to use in this video were sent to me by their manufacturers.”
As long as your audience knows the nature of your relation with an advertiser or company, it’s good enough. (That doesn’t apply if you’re an employee or co-owner.)
What’s your take?
Image: Jason Howie via Flickr®
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA business marketing content and distribution firm. For content that makes you stick out from the crowd, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.