Since introducing their online advertising regulations more than a decade ago, the Federal Trade Commission has sought to make online advertising and sales as ethical as possible to each and every consumer. These regulations have been updated recently in order to adapt to the times but the essential message remains clear. The FTC seeks to protect online consumers from any deceptive or unfair advertising schemes.

Online Advertising Regulations’ History

The online advertising regulations were started in May 2000 by the Federal Trade Commission. It was the result of a public comment and subsequent workshop regarding the application of FTC rules to online business practices. Back then, they were referred to as Dot Com Practices. In May 2011, the FTC sought to update the online advertising regulations, in response to the rapid technological changes that had occurred over the past 11 years. The FTC put the final revisions on the regulations after a few workshops and staff meetings and re-released them in March 2013.

Basic Principles

One of the basic principles of the online advertising regulations is that consumer protection laws that apply in other business transactions should also apply online. There are no exceptions. Under these regulations, advertisers are expected to provide any limitations or qualifying information into the underlying claim of their product rather than separately. The FTC requires for businesses to give their consumers as much truthful information, as clearly and directly as possible, in order to avoid any miscommunication regarding their product.

Clear and Conspicuous Disclosures

This is arguably the most crucial element of the online advertising regulations. Too often, consumers are deceived by disclosures that are not obvious enough to the eye. The Federal Trade Commission focuses greatly upon this. They are adamant about businesses offering clear and conspicuous disclosures regarding their products. This means not only stating disclosures very directly, but also in a way that demands the consumer’s attention. This can include before they click to buy as well as repeating the disclosure as many times as deemed necessary.

Be Aware of Consumer’s Perspective

Properly disclosing product information in a way that’s clear and conspicuous often means that businesses need to be aware of the consumer’s perspective. Research should be undertaken regarding what they pay attention to. Disclosures need to be close to the triggering claim and possibly even incorporated into the ad. Hyperlinks should be made obvious if they include disclosures. Scrolling should also not be necessary to read the disclosure. These methods take many different things into consideration, including not only the consumer’s attention level but the technology they are using.

There are many more examples of how to ensure clear and conspicuous disclosures, as well as how to communicate effectively with your consumer, in the FTC’s official online advertising regulations. It is a useful handbook for any business that advertises and markets themselves online. It is needless to say that if your consumers feel they are being dealt with honestly and directly, it will establish and solidify positive relations between them and you.

Above image source: Flickr/zappowbang