Commentary

FTC Hopes To Update Truth-In-Advertising Guidelines By Year End

The Federal Trade Commission hopes to issue its long-awaited update to the dot-com disclosure guides by the end of the year, associate director Mary Engle said on Monday at the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Self-Regulatory Council conference.

The new guidelines will advise marketers how to convey key information to consumers -- including the terms and conditions of offers -- on mobile devices and social media platforms.

The current guides, which date to 2000, make clear that advertising rules requiring disclosure of material information apply to online ads, as well as ads in traditional media. But the specific examples dealt with banner ads and Web sites. For instance, the old guides said that if companies placed disclosures at the bottom of a page, the design should encourage consumers to scroll down.

The new guides are expected to recommend how to convey the key information on 4-inch smartphone screens, or platforms like Twitter where marketers are limited to 140 characters.

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What kind of mobile ad especially concerns the FTC? One example provided by Engle involved coupons from daily deal companies. For instance, restaurants sometimes offer discounts to consumers who purchase deals online, but the offers come with fine print -- like restrictions on days of the week or locations. The question the FTC is gearing up to tackle centers on how marketers can "clearly and conspicuously" convey those restrictions.

Commissioner Julie Brill, who also spoke at the conference, said the key issue isn't just what marketers say, but how they say it. "Context is really critical," Brill said Monday morning. "It is just as important to consider when consumers are provided with critical information, and the context in which they are provided the information, as it is to consider what they are told."

 

 

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