Gini Dietrich

FTC Dot Com Disclosures Are Now Required

By: Gini Dietrich | March 15, 2012 | 

It’s becoming even more important to disclose the work you do with clients, particularly if it isn’t clear you’re working with a company on their online efforts.

The FTC recently released their “Dot Com Disclosures,” (PDF download) which spells out what is OK and what is not.

Our own Lisa Gerber wrote a blog post a few weeks ago, detailing why we write (client) on things we tweet, Facebook, pin, update, or connect on behalf of clients.

In the comments, she got a lot of flack, ranging from “people won’t read it if you say it’s on behalf of a client” to “that’s ridiculous.”

Well, now it doesn’t matter whether or not you think it’s ridiculous. It’s no longer just a guide or a rule, it’s now required.

The disclosure must be clear and conspicuous.

The Dot Com Disclosures says, to evaluate whether a particular disclosure is clear and conspicuous, consider:

  • The placement of the disclosure in an advertisement and its proximity to the claim it is qualifying;
  • The prominence of the disclosure;
  • Whether items in other parts of the document, tweet, update, connection, blog post, ad, etc., distract attention from the disclosure;
  • Whether what is being communicated is so lengthy that the disclosure needs to be repeated;
  • Whether disclosures in audio messages are presented in an adequate volume and cadence and visual disclosures appear for a sufficient duration; and
  • Whether the language of the disclosure is understandable to the intended audience.

It even goes so far as to say the disclosure cannot be linked to a separate page, which causes the consumer to “refer somewhere else to obtain the disclosure,” but that it can be hyperlinked after the first mention, particularly in lengthy content that requires it more than once.

If you’re working on something that requires an online purchase, a disclosure must be made before the purchase page and on it, as well.

They’re even suggesting disclosure be a different color, size, and/or background of the document it’s within so it’s very clear what’s being said.

Of course, the most obvious example of this is when you buy an ad and get a feature story in return. Those stories must say “advertising” along the top or in some form throughout the copy.

But it’s no longer limited to printed publications. It’s considering all content on the web as part of the Dot Com Disclosures Act. And you have to be prepared.

They’re considering this part of the consumer protection laws and they will come after you.

Protect yourself, your company, and/or your clients. Disclose. Better to be safe than sorry.

(I linked to it above, but if you want to get really smart on the Dot Com Disclosures, you can find it here.)

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • ginidietrich

    @EveGelman Thanks Eve!

    • EveGelman

      @ginidietrich You’re welcome, thanks for the info.

  • This is good stuff Gini in my view but as with Bloggers/Tweeters etc who have to note they are being paid to write about or tweet something I see this will only affect big companies. Because no one will care or notice if I do something wrong and I can’t be sued where someone makes money from suing me.
    As for your comments about people not wanting to read something client related it depends on what the content is. A case study showing something you learned of course. A shameless plug to help your client (and thus you) no.
    I am still amazed we have ‘Truth in Advertising Laws’ but no ‘Truth in Political Ads Laws’

    •  @HowieSPM Exactly,we share plenty of non- client information that may or may not be relevant to our audience. We also share plenty of client information that may or may not be relevant to our audience. Everyone can make the choice to click or to scroll. That’s the beauty of it. 🙂 
      Back to your blogger/tweeter comment: THe funny thing is, they don’t hold journalists for print to this standard. I’ve worked in travel PR for many years, and bloggers have always disclosed the “sponsored” trip, but the magazine stories never do. 

    • @HowieSPM but that would make the campaign ads far less entertaining 🙂

    • ginidietrich

       @HowieSPM When Lisa wrote her blog post, one of the comments was, “Well, if you write (client) at the end of a tweet, no one will click on it.” We’ve found the opposite. We disclose, but if the information we’re sharing on behalf of the client is interesting, people will click and read.

  • KeithTrivitt

    Gini, so glad you are bringing attention to this crucial issue. We’d like to recommend for additional reading some materials we provided six months ago, based on formal comments we submitted to the FTC ( regarding its proposed revisions to the “Dot Com Disclosure” guidelines.
    As we noted in those comments, and in a follow-up panel, hosted by WOMMA, we spoke on with Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising, there are several key points we believe that PR professionals and marketers should keep in mind when engaging in online marketing and communications activities:
    – Disclosure of relationships, motivation, compensation and other pertinent factors should be the basis of all forms of marketing and communications, including emerging practices like social media and online contests.
    – Clarity of brand disclosures is paramount. Companies should be transparent in their communications and marketing. Businesses should aid in the decision-making process for consumers, rather than adding to the confusion that can accompany online purchasing decisions.
    – The proliferation of character and text limitations by social networks requires the FTC to examine whether the inclusion of brand disclosures is necessary or practical at every point of social media communications and marketing. Clarity is needed from the FTC regarding how brands can reasonably provide disclosures within character-limited social networks.
    – The FTC Guides on the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials contain parallel regulations and guidance concerning online marketing and communications and should be incorporated, in whole or in parts, within the FTC’s revised “Dot Com Disclosures” guidelines.
    -The FTC should hold a public workshop on these issues to obtain the full input from all stakeholders.
    We’re currently engaged in a series of discussions with the FTC regarding its proposed guidelines and the effect those may have on PR professionals. Certainly, the more PR pros that are involved in this important discussion the better.
    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director, Public Relations

    • ginidietrich

       @KeithTrivitt Thanks for the additional information, Keith! I’d love it if you keep me updated on what you’re seeing (and I’ll do the same). 

  • Except for the additional disclosure from when an ad  becomes a story, I assumed this was required. This is part of why I usually don’t tweet, fb etc for clients. I think it’s more effective to help them build a network before they need it. Not always possible of course.
    On the other hand, I think there are ways to disclose that a person is a client w/o turning people off – content, connection, tone and targeting makes a difference in whether people click.

    • ginidietrich

       @Tinu I agree with you on not doing the social media FOR the clients. But we definitely help them promote the stuff they’re doing…and we always disclose it.
      You’re like us – we assumed it was required. I was surprised to see it just go into effect.

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  • I had wondered why I had been seeing so many disclosures on websites for the past few months… But I still haven’t seen Charlie Sheen or Kim Kardashian disclose that they’re pimping x company for cheddah. Maybe that’s not a violation? Gotta keep it short today cuz I’m busy being a bracketologist. You’ll have a great blog post in a few weeks about me having a perfect NCAA March Madness Bracket!

    • ginidietrich

       @SociallyGenius Or that Kim is asking guys to marry her for the extra publicity? They will have to disclose it, celebrity or not.

  • Yes they keep popping up as well. I think it is a good idea but as more regulation in will this stifle creativity and freedom of speech although I do think disclosing advertorial copy is important so people can see if it is biased.

    • ginidietrich

       @JohnTeigh And I think that’s the point…they want to be sure consumers are getting unbiased information.

  • TravisMClemens

    I think it’s about time. As a user I would DEFINITELY want to know when there’s an agenda behind a post/tweet/comment/etc. It also helps build trust with your network if you’re self disclosing.

    • ginidietrich

       @TravisMClemens I agree! None of us want to be tricked. It’s better to err on too much disclosure than not enough.

  • Just want to point out that these guidelines for disclosure aren’t new — the guide is dated May 2000. However, it shows the big gap between legislation and enforcement because not every business prominently discloses ‘fine-print’ or endorsements as well as this document points out. 
    The bottom line is the feds want to make sure your content and offers are readable, accessible and clearly understood so expectations and claims are on the same page. 
    This 83-page guide is also worth its weight for the beautiful renditions of websites that are mocked up in 2000. Hilarious. 

    • ginidietrich

       @JoeManna It’s recently been revised and they’re cracking down on what we all do (or don’t do). But I’m with you…the mockups are hilarious. I also like the “logo” they use.

  • XpressiveHandz

    @Inkling_Media It’s things like this that confuse me. Isn’t there a difference between a recommendation and a sales? Part 1

  • JeffGeoghan

    @ginidietrich welcome to the world we already live in with real estate :-/

    • ginidietrich

      @JeffGeoghan I’m glad – it should be done

  • jeffespo

    @ginidietrich I disclose that I <3 paper gini…

    • ginidietrich

      @jeffespo You still <3 me??!

      • jeffespo

        @ginidietrich yes yes I do

        • ginidietrich

          @jeffespo Good! I still <3 you, too

  •  @ginidietrich This dovetails with a big point made during a session I attended at SXSW last week on “Bridging the social media manager-lawyer divide.” The point was that we (as social media pros) need to make as much as an effort as possible to really understand the rules, regulations and laws. This makes it much easier to build a good relationship with in-house counsel when getting social media campaigns approved if you can give the facts about what you’re proposing takes the regs into account.
    Thanks for covering this stuff on a regular basis here.
    I wrote a recap of that session here if interested:

    • ginidietrich

       @TedWeismann I encourage everyone here to go read your post. It’s really detailed in HOW to work with counsel.

  • I understand why we need this type of regulation, but #frustrationabounds so rant mode activated …..

    …….So you have to disclose if you do something for someone…. But Is there any real difference b/n advising someone how to do it and doing it for them??

    I am working in a country where the regulatory process is very different to the modern western “civilization”.
    My career back home was riddled with ‘battles’ with legal folk about what was allowable / sensible. My forehead is now harder than titanium thanks to my frequent “head slaps of astonishment”.

    I am pretty sure there is a line that one should not cross. I am very sure that line is impossible to accurately define. I am certain that line has been pushed too far in favor of overkill in many areas of businesses.

    Remember when everyone had common sense!!

    • ginidietrich

       @Nic_Cartwright It’s all in favor of protecting consumers. So keep that titanium head…you’re going to need it.

  • Great post! Thank you so much for sharing. – Also appreciate the additional helpful information in the comments by other readers.

    • ginidietrich

       @dhatfield And thank YOU for sharing it on Twitter!

  • FrankDickinson

    @GrantGriffiths Hello Mister – how’s things?

    • GrantGriffiths

      @FrankDickinson things are good. You?

      • Jolene_ofj

        @GrantGriffiths Apple is giving away free iPad 3s, today only! Go to this profile for info! @ipadgiveaway9

      • FrankDickinson

        @GrantGriffiths Peachy here. Enjoying a quiet Sunday morning without storms.

        • GrantGriffiths

          @FrankDickinson yup. We have some coming later tonight and tomorrow.

        • FrankDickinson

          @GrantGriffiths That time of year in the Midwest

        • GrantGriffiths

          @frankdickinson That it is. A bit early this year too.

  • TheDudeDean

    @Tinu I’d like to see how they’re going to enforce that.

    • Tinu

      @TheDudeDean I think it’s more to have a law on the books to make the action have consequences. & back up existing intentions.

  • Thanks for the update Gini. Really great information we all need to take into account. I’ve been watching this as well but your summary is excellent, as are the additions from @KeithTrivitt and @TedWeismann . Lots to think about for folks. 

    • ginidietrich

       @mdbarber  It’s almost getting too much to keep up on … so why not just play it safe?

      •  @ginidietrich From my standpoint, it’s always been so easy to incorporate into each message. Others I see…just don’t seem to get it. 

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