Compliance with FTC’s New Guidelines: My Own Disclosure

FTC imposes strict new rules on advertisers using endorsements and blogsLet’s get this out of the way.

Compliance Disclaimer: Some links on this site make me money.  Go Figure.  I am writing about Affiliate Marketing. So if you choose to purchase a product or service that is linked on this site, I want to thank you for helping a working stiff like me (and probably a lot like you) make a living from his passion.  It is this site’s intention to help you make more money for yourself and your family.  (But if you aren’t OK with that arrangement , then let the FTC know, since they are the ones who so gently requested that I inform you of any monetized links, my “material relationship” in FTC speak.  Heretofore, we were both OK with me just giving away good actionable information, views and reviews (and possibly some common sense); you, the reader,  enjoying reading it and thinking it was all just the ramblings of some sophomoric f**&ing philanthropist.  Don’t misunderstand me, I truly do enjoy helping more people understand the industry I work in, but even more so, I really like having asphalt shingles over my family’s  heads instead of cardboard.)

Now I am not an attorney, although the companies I have worked with and for, have spent a small fortune making sure they hired the best compliance attorneys in the industry.  I am also not a qualified legal assistant nor have any degrees in that field or any credentials other than my own experience.   OK, now I have disclosed that I am not an expert in the field of law and that anything you read on this blog is not intended to be advice of any kind.

If you have stuck around after the disclaimers to get to the good stuff, I thank you.  But I will not be sending you any gifts to thank you, as that might appear to entice you to endorse my blog.  In fact, If I send you anything I will make sure to disclose when I am taking your address that I am not placing you on any mailing list that will be used for any future mailings you did not want to receive to your mailbox from myself or any other third party entity.  Further I will be disclosing that I will not accept any form of gifts as an enticement for writing good things about you.  If you want to send me gifts, that is nice.  My birthday is December 16th.  Just don’t expect a shining review of a piece of crap.  Because a piece of crap will always be a piece of crap no matter what color you paint it.

And that brings us to the impending Dec. 1st  deadline for compliance with the FTC’s 16 C.F.R. Part 255: Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising: Notice Announcing Adoption of Revised Guides their Compliance Guidelines regarding endorsements and full disclosure.  According to the FTC’s David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We wouldn’t put our orders in writing if we weren’t going to enforce them.”

If you make true statements, you can be liable under the guidelines.  If you make false statements knowingly, the guidelines are squarely aimed at you.  The problem with the truth is that while it may be a portion of your customers that experience phenomenal results, is this the case for all of your customers?  If it isn’t then you will need  to find a way to let them know this.  A simple “Individual Results May Vary” is no longer the de facto standard in for your product or services disclosure that not everyone will have the same experience.

And if you are reading this and have ever endorsed me (and you know who you are), well then I have to thank you.  But I also have to disclose that every single one of the comments on my LinkedIn profile are completely unsolicited, even though most are gratuitously verbose about what I helped them with. I would like to also solicit anyone reading this blog to post an endorsement that is mediocre as I need to present a balanced and objective image to the consumer.  I do not want to mislead them that everyone likes what I do.  Unfortunately, the people I have pissed off over the years tend not to post endorsements.  So if you have written something about me or are planning to, you will be getting an email with a form that you will need to fill out that will forever prove that you think I actually know something (or not).  Oh yes, I must also disclose the material links of my association with them.  Most of the people who have written an endorsement or testimonial about me, I have never charged a dime for my time.

The FTC is chartered to protect the consumer from fraud and deceptive practices, that is their only mission.  And from the looks of their website, they have adapted to using the Internet to get their message out.  Their has been no lack of publicity in the marketing and advertising community regarding this change and I am confident that there will be enforcements of this new standard almost immediately following the Dec. 1st 2009 deadline for compliance.  Those enforcements will serve as guideposts to where the edge of the envelope lies.

In our slice of the industry, performance marketing,  I feel the players will be particularly scrutinized, as it is the fake blogs and unabashedly biased blog posts that have irked the FTC in the first place (or at least greatly contributed to it).  Affiliates have a tendency to find the edges and exploit them, in most cases unabated by the merchants greed and unwillingness to stop the train even though they were more than likely aware it was leading consumers down a path of poor customer service or product performance.

The bottom line for all of this lies in transparency.


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