FTC Updates Ad Guidelines For Social, Mobile Media
March 13, 2013

FTC Updates Ad Guidelines For Social, Mobile Media

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is updating its 13-year old guidelines for online advertising to include mobile ads and ads on social networking sites. Now, ads posted on these sites must also steer clear of any deceptive or unfair messages, just like any other advertisement.

The new guidelines, called .com Disclosures, will effect advertisers on Twitter particularly. As there are only 140 characters permitted in each Tweet, a disclaimer could take up a large amount of real estate.

“It´s the law — and it´s always been the law — that if the disclosure of information is necessary to prevent an online ad claim from being deceptive or unfair, it has to be clear and conspicuous.” reads an FTC blog posted yesterday written by Lesley Fair. “Advertisers should make sure their disclosures are clear and conspicuous on all devices and platforms that consumers may use to view their ads.”

According to the new guidelines, any ad which may be misleading or violate another FTC rule will require a clear and conspicuous disclosure. This disclosure should be easily seen, despite where or on what platform the ad is posted. If a disclosure cannot be posted to meet these guidelines, then the ad shouldn´t be used.

Advertisers on Twitter are already accustomed to using the hashtag “#spon” (short for sponsored) in their Tweet ads. This hashtag takes up five characters of what could otherwise be used for ad space. The FTC has suggested a shorter hashtag to make it even clearer to readers that they´re being served an advertisement: #ad.

According to the new .com Disclosures, the #spon hashtag may be misleading, and even those Tweets with a semblance of a disclaimer could be misleading by the five-character hashtag.

The FTC also gave a hypothetical Tweet from a fictional celebrity to make their point.

"Shooting movie beach scene. Had to lose 30lbs in 6 wks. Thanks Fat-away Pills for making it easy. Typical loss: 1lb/wk. #Spon."

In this instance, the #spon could be misleading, claims the FTC.

The new .com Disclosures place even tighter restrictions on advertisers who have been fighting to find new ways to emerge from the rest of the noise found online.

“The new .com Disclosures acknowledges the challenge that presents to marketers, but companies still have to make necessary disclosures clearly and conspicuously,” reads the FTC´s blog post. “What about conveying that information via pop-ups? Not a good idea since there are so many technologies for blocking them.”

When the Wall Street Journal asked Twitter for a comment about these new guidelines, the micro-blogging company pointed to their existing policies which require advertisers to adhere to all legal requirements.

Twitter already uses some techniques to post disclosures with ads. In advertisements for political candidates, for instance, a purple box surrounds the Tweet when a user hovers their mouse over it. This purple box contains the appropriate disclaimers. It´s left to be seen if these measures will be enough to appease the FTC.

In closing, the FTC suggests that advertisers should try to avoid disclosures altogether.

“Advertisers spend a lot of time and trouble dealing with disclosures. Sometimes there may be no way around it. But in many cases, the need for a disclosure is really a warning sign that the underlying ad claim may contain some element of deception,” writes Fair.

“Rather than focusing on fonts, hyperlinks, proximity, platforms, and the whole disclosures rigmarole, how about stepping back and reformulating the ad claim to get rid of the need for a disclosure in the first place?”