Are You Worried or Confused About the Updated FTC Guidelines for Disclosures?

dotcomdisclosuresFTCThis week the FTC released some updates to their disclosure requirements and they even included some actual examples in .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising.

The word disclosure has been getting thrown around the web a lot the past few years, to the point where it’s so overused that it’s not even valuable anymore.

Disclosures are made, people add little disclosure badges to their websites and often they don’t even understand why they’re doing that, they just do it because someone told them they have to. That doesn’t really serve a purpose, in my opinion.

Likewise, seeing those little disclosure badges, graphics, and phrases has become so commonplace that consumers don’t truly notice them a lot of times. I suppose that’s sort of like ad blindness – disclosure blindness.

To make matters more confusing and difficult, the guidelines are vague at best. This recent update does include examples, but the examples seem focused on visual advertisements, e-commerce, and Twitter examples.

There is one blogger example (Example 21 on page A-25) where the blogger is disclosing that they received a sample of the product they are reviewing and the FTC says that doing so at the very end of a post is no longer acceptable, that the disclosure needs to appear “as close as possible” to the point where a claim is made or where the product is linked to. In the case of the blogger’s review they cite that there are several links away from the page throughout the post so a reader is likely to click away before they even get to the part about having received the sample.

According to the FTC, all disclosures need to be “clear and conspicuous” and the disclosure statement should be as near to any claims being made as is reasonably possible.

I’m not sure how this applies in regards to affiliate links….

If we need to disclose that we’re affiliates who might make a commission and I talk about web hosting and I link to the web host I use, there are no examples provide for that in the PDF. I say “this is the web host I use” and I recommend it, the link I provide is an affiliate link (because why wouldn’t it be) and I have a general broad affiliate disclosure on my site….

Is that enough disclosure? Do I even need disclosure in that case?

Let’s say I’m a blogger and I’m reviewing a product that I purchased and did not receive a sample of. Something I actually do all the time… Do I still need a disclosure statement that I went to the store and bought the product myself with my own money, do I need to say which store I purchased it from, and again I’m using an affiliate link because why wouldn’t I, do I need to disclose that next to the link or can that be covered in a general disclosure statement placed on my website?

Affiliate marketing is not specifically mentioned in the .com Disclosures PDF document, but the things that are mentioned seemingly can be part of affiliate marketing. Lots of things to think about when it comes to disclosure.

I understand the guidelines are to prevent false claims being made and etc… that’s a good thing overall. But I also think that the guidelines make regular people feel afraid to share their information.

Added on 3/21/2013: FTC posted this informative Q&A that also mentions affiliate marketing.

They want your readers to be able to see both your product review or informational post and a clear, conspicuous, easily understood disclosure that you are an affiliate who will earn commissions.

I also found it particularly interesting that they said a button is not considered to be enough disclosure. Over the past few years disclosure buttons at the end of blog posts were pretty popular around the blogosphere when it came to advertising and affiliate links, those shiny buttons aren’t going to cut it anymore

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment and discuss….

5 thoughts on “Are You Worried or Confused About the Updated FTC Guidelines for Disclosures?”

  1. Unfortunately, I think it does apply to affiliate links. Mainly because they talk about “paid endorsements” which is really close to affiliate revenue. We just don’t get paid a flat rate for talking about the product. We get paid on a commission basis. Based on the FTC-Legacy Learning Systems settlement, they do consider affiliate reviews to be an endorsement. The only thing missing in the new guidelines is the language about “material connection.”
    Tricia Meyer recently posted..Affiliates Take Note: New FTC Disclosure GuidelinesMy Profile

    1. I absolutely agree with you there. Just because a person isn’t an “advertiser” doesn’t mean they’re not profiting, and it sounds like the underlying theme of disclosure is that they want profit potential to be disclosed. Paid endorsement and affiliate commission all equal payment in the end.

      I personally don’t mind offering up disclosures, and I don’t think most affiliate marketers who are doing things in an honest way mind either.

      I don’t think anyone wants to have to write things like, “I use XYZ Product and I am so happy that it resolved LMNOP issue for me. (I am an affiliate of XYZ and if you buy XYZ Product from the link in that sentence I will receive a commission.) In addition to the LMNOP issue, there is also a feature available that takes care of QRS, but I haven’t had a chance to try that yet.”

      But I do think that’s what is going to start happening because people are getting to that point of being afraid to share information, being afraid to earn a commission, and sometimes even being embarrassed that they used an affiliate link for a product they actually use and recommend in conversation.

    1. That’s where the line seems really fuzzy, especially since they don’t address affiliate links directly. I honestly wish they would just address it and make it clear what they expect so we’re not guessing and hoping.

  2. More and more rules to follow..Little woorried about this actually..Gonna read more about this to see what needs to be changed.

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