In 2000, the FTC formalized online marketing rules by creating and distributing a set of Internet advertising guidelines. After analyzing issues unique to online promotion, the commission published the “Dot Com Disclosures” — a.k.a., the online marketing bible for the United States.
An 83-page document, the Dot Com Disclosures clarifies how established regulations concerning “unfair and deceptive” sales and marketing techniques translate to online efforts.
While the document is wordy, the gist is this: Don’t try to game people using coding and design trickery. Below is a breakdown of the Dot Com Disclosure points.
Dot Com Disclosures Point #1: Placement and Proximity
One of the main issues outlined in the FTC’s Dot Com document deals with the proximity of disclosures to the statement or advertisement being offered. Essentially, it states that any policy link or required statement should be as close to the “relevant claim.” In other words, the Dot Com Disclosure makes clear that you cannot publish marketing collateral one place and then put the necessary disclosure, or conspicuous link to the necessary disclosure, in another place.
Dot Com Disclosures Rule #2: Label Correctly
If a disclosure link is not labeled properly, the FTC may come after you. In other words, policy links must be evident. Trying to mask disclosures and links to disclosures may get you in big trouble with the Federal Trade Commission. As such, when designing an online or mobile ad, and you’re not sure whether or not your disclosure link would pass FTC labeling muster, it’s best to consult with an FTC attorney. The $150 you would spending having an Internet lawyer review your online or mobile ad could save you from a rumble with the commission.
Dot Com Disclosures Rule #3: Link Consistency
The FTC cares about your website’s design. And they’re particularly picky about the site’s link style. In an effort to ensure that users can distinguish links from regular text, the FTC says that links on any given ad must be consistent and distinguishable. In other words, don’t try to trick people by doing something devious with a given link.
Dot Com Disclosures Rule #4: No Circuitous Linking
If you have a link on an ad that leads to a disclosure, the link must take the user directly to the appropriate information. Again, trying to defraud users with link trickery will raise the ire of the FTC.
Dot Com Disclosures Rule #5: You’re Responsible For Monitoring Others
The Dot Com Disclosure also lays down the law regarding the monitoring of affiliate marketing networks. The gist of their position: If you have affiliates hawking your wares, you have a responsibility to monitor their actions to ensure they’re not engaging in nefarious activities with regards to the marketing of your product. Now, of course this varies case to case, as sometimes it’s impossible for the affiliate operator to tell that one of their affiliates is engaging in something illegal, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s important to monitor your network and take measures against any affiliates who are not following the Dot Com Disclosure rules.
If you run an affiliate marketing network and need a lawyer to look things over, give us shout. It’s an inexpensive flat fee to do so and could save you a giant FTC headache down the road.