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5 Tips on Disclosure for Publishers

Adapted from an article that originally appeared on the mThink blog.

DISCLAIMER:  All content is for informational purposes only. Guidance is based on personal interpretations and in no way, represent legal advice.

The industry is buzzing about endorsement requirements when it comes to influencer marketing, but what about when it comes to affiliate marketing? What are the requirements for publishers to disclose when they receive commission from an advertiser? The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a press release educating consumers about Affiliate Marketing. Within the release, the FTC warned consumers about online marketers potentially using deceptive ads to mislead consumers. So how do you ensure you are being transparent with your users?

Here are five tips to help you properly disclose your relationship with your advertising partners to your users:

  1. Material Relationship
    Disclosing your relationship to the brand is one way you can ensure you are being transparent to consumers. The FTC Endorsement Guide is a great resource to better understand how to properly disclose a material relationship. Keep in mind, this guide is not just for influencers, it applies to affiliate publishers as well. If an advertiser is paying a publisher a percentage of commission then that could be deemed a material connection and therefore should be properly disclosed clearly and conspicuously to consumers.
  2. Modify Claims
    A disclosure can be defined as a statement that modifies a claim. So, a disclosure is more than just letting consumers know you are being paid by the advertiser, it can also apply to claims you make about a product or brand on your site. For example, if you are a publisher promoting an advertiser’s “Free” product on your site, you should disclose to consumers any terms and conditions that are contingent upon receiving that free item. In addition, those terms should be set forth clearly and conspicuously to consumers. Superlative language is another example of a claim often made in online marketing ads.  Claims like, “Best,” “Top,” etc. should be qualified with evidence to support those types of claims.
  3. Organic Content
    It’s oftentimes valuable to promote a brand’s product on your site whom you are not partnered with as a benefit your readers. Are there guidelines for disclosing when you are not receiving commission from the advertiser? It is simple, if there is no material connection, then there is nothing to disclose. Keep in mind, a material connection is not always referencing commission or flat fees. If you receive a product for free from a brand, then that qualifies as a material connection and should be disclosed to your readers.
  4. Social Media
    Social media continues to be a growing channel of distribution for online marketers. You may not realize this, but simply posting an image of an advertiser’s product on social media could be deemed an endorsement, and would therefore require a disclosure.It is important to remember whatever medium your ad is being delivered in, that your disclosure matches. For example, if you do a Facebook live video to promote an advertiser’s product(s) it is important the disclosure be both visual and audible. Consumers can enter and exit streaming content so a visual disclosure should be clear and conspicuous to the consumer at whatever point they enter the video ad, as well as verbalized frequently throughout the messaging.
  5. Mobile
    Today most websites are mobile optimized and the content is automatically scaled to fit a consumer’s mobile devices. Disclosure guidelines still apply, even though the screen size is reduced on mobile devices. It is important that disclosures are still clear and conspicuous to consumers.

Digital marketing will continue to evolve, as will the FTC guidelines for proper disclosures and how to mitigate potential consumer deception. It is important that as online marketers we are doing our part to ensure transparency to the consumer. If you need assistance in understanding how to use and create disclosures, Rakuten Marketing’s Brand Quality & Regulatory Compliance team can help. For more information contact BrandQuality@Rakuten.com.

About the Author: Jennifer Moor heads the Brand Quality & Regulatory Compliance team at Rakuten Marketing, and has been with the company for 11 years. She has over six years of regulatory compliance experience and she is a graduate of the National Compliance School. She also serves on the Compliance Council for the Performance Marketing Association.

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