Tougher mobile and social ad rules pit FTC against marketers

New advertising guidelines aimed at making online and social media ads more transparent have been published by the Federal Trade Commission, toughening the rules on disclosure for product pushers. The amended document, ".com Disclosures" [pdf link], adds smartphone advertising and social media marketing to its original 2000 guidance; in short, the FTC said, if you can't give full disclosure on a device or service like Twitter, then you shouldn't be using it for promotion.

"If a disclosure is needed to prevent an online ad claim from being deceptive or unfair, it must be clear and conspicuous. Under the new guidance, this means advertisers should ensure that the disclosure is clear and conspicuous on all devices and platforms that consumers may use to view the ad. The new guidance also explains that if an advertisement without a disclosure would be deceptive or unfair, or would otherwise violate a Commission rule, and the disclosure cannot be made clearly and conspicuously on a device or platform, then that device or platform should not be used" FTC

That means, if you're using promoted Tweets, Facebook messages, pop-ups, or other types of advert, you have to fit both your marketing content and any necessary disclosure into them. If you can't accomodate both, then you shouldn't do it at all, the FTC warns, lest you fall foul of its rules.

Meanwhile, the updated guidance also toughens up the FTC's stance on where disclosures should be positioned. Originally, it was considered enough that they be "near, and when possible, on the same screen"; now, they must be "as close as possible" to any claims made.

Hyperlinks must be labeled, and pop-ups should be avoided for delivering disclosure information, since the FTC recognizes that many people actively block them. So, in the sample advert at the top of the page, the FTC takes issue with the lack of contrast between the background page color and the text of the two disclosures.

For 140-character tweets, meanwhile, the FTC suggests the easiest way to flag up promotional content is to put "Ad:" before the body of the message. Other disclosures – such as links to a separate site detailing any marketing obligations, or the hashtag "#spon" – are likely to cause confusion, the commission argues.