Once again, the Federal Trade Commision is catching up with the internet – and this time they are tackling internet advertising particularly including Twitter, and clarifying how to handle tweets that are sponsored or otherwise paid (by the way, you can follow the FTC on Twitter, or attend their frequent Twitter chats).
Since the FTCs first foray into monitoring sponsored content online in May of 2011, Twitter in particular has changed significantly with Twitter parties and celebrity endorsements becoming far more common, along with promoted tweets from Twitter itself.
In the latest information from the FTC (found in this PDF), it’s not enough to use the popular hashtag #spon or #sp. Instead, you need to be straight up and use the much more obvious #ad – and if there are any claims made in the tweet, include something like “results not typical” in the tweet as well.
In a section titled, “Clear and Conspicious Disclosure Disclosures in Online Advertisements” the FTC states the basic rules that apply to any paid content online:
When it comes to online ads, the basic principles of advertising law apply:
1. Advertising must be truthful and not misleading;
2. Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims (“substantiation”);
3. Advertisements cannot be unfair.
One issue that is highlighted in this new document is regarding linked disclosures and how critical it is that the links be clearly marked, and that the critical disclosure info be in close proximity to the ad (in other words, beware, bloggers that have a single disclosure for your entire blog). The section pertinent to Tweets is called, fittingly, “Evaluating Proximity in Space-Constrained Ads.” It uses the following sample tweet:
The FTC states the following about that tweet:
In some cases, required disclosures can easily be incorporated into a space-constrained ad. This space-constrained message requires two disclosures: (1) that JuliStarz is a paid endorser for Fat-away; and (2) the amount of weight that consumers who use Fat-away can generally expect to lose in the depicted circumstances, which is much less than the 30 pounds Juli says she lost in 6 weeks. This space constrained ad signals that Juli is a paid endorser by beginning with “Ad:” which only takes up four characters. It also succinctly discloses, “Typical loss: 1lb/wk.
The FTC also makes it VERY clear that the popular use of #sp or #spon in paid tweets is absolutely NOT enough disclosure:
Consumers might not understand that “#spon” means that the message was sponsored by an advertiser. If a significant proportion of reasonable viewers would not, then the ad would be deceptive.
The FTC suggests using the full word “sponsored” instead.
The FTC also discusses the use of shortened links such as bit.ly links, stating that some consumers might find those links misleading – particularly when that link includes the disclosure:
Consumers viewing “bit.ly/f56,” which links to the advertiser’s official website for the product, might not realize the nature and relevance of the information that could be found by clicking on it.
It remains to be seen if the FTC is actually policing Twitter rigidly – it seems unlikely that they have the time – but as bloggers making their living this way, it’s important that we all follow the guidelines. Again, you can read the full PDF here.