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FTC’s Strict New Guidelines for Digital Advertising

Posted on Mar 30th, 2013

On March 12, 2013 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released new guidelines covering digital advertising. They are stricter for advertisers and call for digital marketers to review their current practices for compliance.

The original guidelines from 2000 merely demanded that disclosures be in close “proximity” to ads whereas the new guidelines must be “as close as possible,” clear and conspicuous, and hyperlinked only when their meaning is easily understood by consumers. These changes are largely the result of mobile and social media advertising.

The impact is important for digital marketers to understand. The FTC explains in the guidelines that tweets with the hashtag “#Sponsored” are probably acceptable as this is would be easily understood by consumers to be an ad. However, the FTC distinguishes the example tweet “#spon” and says it is probably not acceptable and possibly deceptive.

The FTC also addressed the problems presented by digital advertising on mobile devices. The new guidelines point out that many platforms may not be appropriate for digital advertising based on their incapability of the kinds of conspicuous disclosures now mandated by the FTC. For example, the FTC advises against the use of Flash media now for digital advertising.

The new guidelines specifically address disclosures within social media and mobile platforms. The FTC makes clear that “space-constrained” platforms (like Twitter, for example) are not exempt from the disclosure rules. In fact, the FTC recommends that advertisers actually make their disclosures within the ads despite the lack of space. If they are linked, they must be linked conspicuously. The Guidelines also advise that ads be mobile-optimized, to avoid the problem of ads with clear and conspicuous disclosures on a regular-sized screen becoming ambiguous on a mobile screen or requiring scrolling. Pop ups are also discouraged, since so many people use blockers or simply disregard them completely.

The takeaway here is that digital advertisers need to ensure their compliance with the new guidelines. Mobile optimization and better social media advertising are good business anyway, but the FTC will be making sure that marketers toe the line.

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