The Federal Trade Commission has issued updated “.com Disclosures” guidelines aimed at clarifying the disclosures required of online advertisers, in addition to the general advertising law principles, like truthfulness, that advertisers should follow regardless of the medium.

The new guidelines apply to all methods of online advertising, including sponsored posts on personal blogs and Twitter accounts.

Any time a blogger or user of any other online medium receives compensation in return for a post, has been given a free product to review, receives a commission on sales, or receives any other type of consideration (including services) in return for promoting a third party’s offering, the blogger must disclose that fact.

This disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous.” Disclosures made solely at the bottom of posts, in small print, in a general “legal guidelines” document, or far away from the claim would not meet this standard.

Rather, the disclosures must be at least the same size as the advertising claim, in a color that contrasts with the background, and preferably accompanied by graphics to emphasize the disclosure, though graphics are not mandatory. Additional guidelines include ensuring that the disclosure is:

  • placed as close as possible to the claim, ideally so that the user does not have to scroll to find the disclosure
  • visible on and compatible with the various devices and programs used by consumers to view the ad
  • revealed before the consumer makes a decision to buy (such as before the user clicks “add to cart”)
  • repeated if the site is lengthy, or if there are multiple advertising claims made
  • in plain, readily understandable language
  • as unavoidable as possible

A hyperlinked disclosure could be appropriate, if the disclosure is not integral to the claim and if it is so complex that it cannot readily be conveyed in the text alongside the claim. The link should be obvious and labeled to convey the importance of the information and to give an idea of the type of information contained in the disclosure (more specific than just “disclosure” or an indecipherable shortened URL), and the linked page should immediately provide the disclosure.

On Twitter, making the disclosure via a hashtag at the end of the message might not be sufficient (e.g., “#spon”). The FTC suggests placing the word “Ad:” at the beginning of sponsored tweets. It would not be acceptable to include the disclosure in a subsequent tweet separate from the sponsored tweet. The same tweet must also include any necessary disclaimers, like the average results from a weight-loss program.

If the medium simply cannot accommodate all of the necessary disclosures (for instance, in a single tweet), then the FTC advises the advertiser not to run ads in that medium.

For more detailed guidelines and specific examples, please refer to the FTC’s .com Guidelines document.