FTC: The Basics

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Suppose you meet someone, anyone… friend, family, stranger in Target, who tells you about a great new product. She tells you it performs wonderfully and offers fantastic new features that no other brand offers. Would that rave review factor into your decision to purchase the product?

Now suppose that same person works for the company that sells the product, even as a freelance marketing consultant. Wouldn’t you want to know that when you’re deciding if the product is right for you? That concept is at the heart of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) requirements for all content creators.

The FTC has provided a very detailed set of “Guides”, which at best can be mundane and confusing to read through. Ultimately though, they strive to urge all types of marketers to share the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be forthright and not misleading. Any published endorsement, in print, online, or social media, must reflect an honest conceptualized opinion of the brand and can not be used to make a claim which the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make.

If there is any type of connection between a brand and a content creator/marketer which a reader would not expect and in which might affect the consumer’s decision, that relationship must be disclosed. For example, if a blog post features an brand who is a relative or employee of the blogger, the post is misleading unless the relationship is made clear. The same is usually true if the blogger has been paid or given something of value to promote the product. The reason should be obvious: Knowing about the relationship is key information for readers coming to their own conclusion.

Now, let’s say you and your family are planning a vacation. You do some Googling and discover a glowing blog post of a resort with gorgeous photos on someone’s travel blog. The post says that the particular resort is the most luxurious place he and his family have ever experienced. If you knew the hotel had paid the blogger hundreds of dollars to say great things about it or that the blogger had stayed there for several days for free with top of the line service because it would increase the odds that he would write a positive review, it could affect how much credit you would give the blogger’s review. This is why the blogger should let his readers know about his relationship with the brand. This comes in the form of an FTC Disclosure, something we will discuss in a future post.

The FTC Guides also apply to ads and sponsored content which feature endorsements from people who achieved exceptional results. Let’s say a Social Media Maven claims to have lost 20lbs in merely two months using a product advertised on her social outlets and/or blog – well first, lucky her!- second, she must ensure the readers understand whether the results are typical or atypical. If she is promoting atypical results, her claims might not only damage her personal brand and credit, but also that of the company she is trying to endorse.

What are some of your questions about FTC Guidelines?

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