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March 18, 2013

FTC Warns Against Mouse Print in Online Ads

Filed under: Business,Computers,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:37 am

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised its guidelines for disclosures in online advertising, including new guidance for ads that appear on cellphone screens.

One of the most important points made by the new “rules” is that when practical “advertisers should incorporate relevant limitations and qualifying
information into the underlying claim, rather than having a separate disclosure qualifying the claim.” That means don’t advertise “all books* on sale” with a disclaimer that says “*hardcover only”, when you could have clearly advertised “All Hardcover Books on Sale” to start with.

Some of the other basic principles include:

  • Required disclosures should be clear and conspicuous;
  • They should be close to the claim to which it relates;
  • Only in rare circumstances should a hyperlink lead to the disclosure;
  • You shouldn’t have to scroll to find the disclosure;
  • Even small banner ads and tweets need appropriate disclosures.

Here are some sample ads created by the FTC to demonstrate some of their new principles:

*MOUSE PRINT:

cell ad

In this ad, 3/4 Ct. is a link that goes to a disclosure that reveal that the diamonds actually may weigh between .72 and .78 carats. The FTC wants to see that disclosure right on this screen, near the 3/4 carat claim.

*MOUSE PRINT:

cold box

There is a health disclaimer at the bottom of this ad which warns that when temperatures are over 80 degrees, this cooler is not capable of keeping foods cold enough to prevent the growth of bacteria which could cause a foodborne illness. The FTC says that something this important should be right in the ad, and in close proximity to the claim that the box keeps food “fresh and cold.”

*MOUSE PRINT:

banner ad

The FTC has separate testimonial rules that require people who are paid to express their opinion to disclose that fact. In this case, “JuliStarz” was a paid endorser. In addition, also in that set of guidelines is the requirement that the average benefit to be derived from a weight loss program be disclosed if the example given is atypical. In this case, the average person will much less than 30 pounds in six weeks, so the disclosure has to say, for example, avg weight loss = 3-lbs/wk.

Don’t hold your breath waiting to see online ads follow all these rules.

• • •

6 Comments

  1. Unfortunately with language like “should” instead of “must”, I’m sure the problem will continue.

    Comment by Shawn — March 18, 2013 @ 9:58 am
  2. Looks like the FTC is useful sometimes. Unfortunately this is one of those situations where advertisers will find as many words as possible to get around the rules.

    Hopefully the FTC keeps up.

    Comment by Wayne R — March 18, 2013 @ 1:17 pm
  3. With respect to JuliStarz, where does it indicate that she is a paid spokesperson? According to the ad (as I read it) she simply mentioned a product that she thought helped her lose weight. Just because somebody ‘famous’ mentions a product doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she has been paid for that mention. More than likely she was, but it doesn’t say it directly.

    I agree with Shawn, make all the “should”‘s either “must”‘s or “shall”‘s, then this might mean something. Another case of our government being here to help us

    Edgar replies: 1. For purposes of the hypothetical, the FTC learns that she has been paid, and thus instructs how that should be disclosed in the ad/tweet. 2. The dotcom dislcosures are “guidelines”, meaning they do not have the force of law, but rather explain how the agency views these issues should a case come before them. That is why “should” is used rather than “must.”

    Comment by BobL — March 18, 2013 @ 2:47 pm
  4. Toys R Us is a company that does this all the time. They will say “All Baby Monitors on Sale” and then it has a list of 10 or more that are not on sale. Or baby strollers. They do that with a lot of their coupons. It is most annoying. That’s what place where I wish they’ld stop those “all on sale with the exception of” coupons.

    Comment by Pat — March 20, 2013 @ 1:02 am
  5. As long as the “rules” are ambiguous, the deception will continue.

    Comment by Jack — March 20, 2013 @ 6:23 pm
  6. Did anyone else read the headline and think that the FTC took out online ads against Mouse Print (this blog)?

    Comment by BZ — March 22, 2013 @ 9:42 am

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