FTC Publishes Answers to FAQs on Endorsement Guides

Federal Trade CommissionEarlier this week I have found out that the Federal Trade Commission has recently created a section within their website, devoting it fully to frequently asked questions on the revised Endorsement Guides (about which I blogged extensively as soon as they got announced).

This is a great addition to the FTC’s video responses released back in November of 2009. Obviously, many people are still confused, and to respond to numerous concerns the Federal Trade Commission compiled the FAQs.

At the time of this post The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking webpage contains answers to 30 questions, with a brief section dedicated specifically to affiliate marketing.

Here are just a few of the questions and answers from the FTC’s new FAQs page:

Why did the FTC revise its Endorsement Guides to include social media?

The FTC revised the Guides because truth in advertising is important in all media – including blogs and social networking sites. The FTC regularly reviews its guides and rules to see if they need to be updated. Because the Endorsement Guides were written in1980, they didn’t address social media. The legal principles haven’t changed. The FTC revised the examples to show how these standards apply in today’s marketing world.

Are you monitoring bloggers?

We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to. If concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers — just as it’s always been.

I’ve heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?

No. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, the Guides aren’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to all its customers. The Guides cover only endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the Guides if an advertiser — or someone working for an advertiser — pays a blogger or gives a blogger something of value to mention a product, including a commission on the sale of a product. Bloggers receiving free products or other perks with the understanding that they’ll promote the advertiser’s products in their blogs would be covered, as would bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them or working for network advertising agencies.

Is there special language I have to use to make the disclosure?

No. The point is to give readers the information. Your disclosure could be as simple as “Company X gave me this product to try …”

Do I have to hire a lawyer to help me write a disclosure?

No. What matters is effective communication, not legalese. A disclosure like “Company X sent me [name of product] to try, and I think it’s great” gives your readers the information they need…

I’m an affiliate marketer with links to an online retailer on my website. When people click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn a commission. What do I have to disclose? Where should the disclosure be?

Let’s assume that you’re endorsing a product or service on your site and you have links to a company that pays you commissions on sales. If you disclose the relationship clearly and conspicuously on your site, readers can decide how much weight to give your endorsement. In some instances, where the link is embedded in the product review, a single disclosure may be adequate. When the product review has a clear and conspicuous disclosure of your relationship — and the reader can see both the product review and the link at the same time — readers have the information they need. If the product review and the link are separated, the reader may lose the connection.

As for where to place a disclosure, the guiding principle is that it has to be clear and conspicuous. Putting disclosures in obscure places — for example, buried on an ABOUT US or GENERAL INFO page, behind a poorly labeled hyperlink or in a terms of service agreement — isn’t good enough. The average person who visits your site must be able to notice your disclosure, read it and understand it.

Once again, you may find the full list of questions and answers on the Federal Trade Commission’s website here. It’s a must-read for everyone who is doing business online.

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2 thoughts on “FTC Publishes Answers to FAQs on Endorsement Guides”

  1. Great information and thanks for passing it along. The FTC guidelines are important for every person with an online presence to know and understand. When the regulations first came out, I was just as confused as everyone else and I am happy to see them explaining it in more detail. I would rather be overprotected than under protected when it comes to my blogs and websites.

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