Word-of-mouthers back honesty in online advertising standards


The Word of Mouth Marketing Association has filed comments with the FTC concerning an ongoing proceeding involving Dot Com Disclosures: Information About Online Advertising. It believes that requirements that advertising be “truthful and nondeceptive” just like any other form and urges the FTC to continue to bring regulations up to date to account for rapid changes in online and social media advertising.

WOMMA notes that the explosion of online services that accept or are conducive to advertising warrant a serious attempt to update the rules.

It suggested that the FTC pursue four areas:

* Advertising must be truthful and nondeceptive (advertising is deceptive if it contains a statement or omits information that is likely to mislead consumers; and is “material,” or important to consumers’ decisions to buy or use the product).

* When the disclosure of qualifying information is necessary to prevent an ad from being deceptive, the information must be presented “clearly and conspicuously” so that consumers can actually notice and understand it (key factors include prominence, presentation, placement, and proximity of disclosure).

* These key factors must be re-evaluated to consider the unique challenges that arise with new media such as location-based tools, Twitter, generic endorsements, question and answer sites, and recommendation/listing sites.

* The FTC should hold a public workshop on these issues to obtain the full input from all stakeholders.

WOMMA General Counsel Anthony DiResta said, “Emerging technologies provide significant consumer benefits, and new media marketing and promotions have been embraced by brands and consumers alike. Yet, many social media platforms provide practical challenges for businesses when attempting to apply the ‘clear and conspicuous’ standard to advertising disclosures. We look forward to working closely with the FTC as they seek to provide reasonable and appropriate guidance to the industry at this key juncture.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Online advertising can be like the wild wild West – and abusers of the medium can instantly get into the bank accounts of their prey, unlike most other forms that can only urge a consumer to invest their cash in a bad product or service. We don’t know how and where the need for honest advertising will clash with the First Amendment, but it is something that needs to be done.