Keeping Clean: Complying with Advertising Laws

Some advertisements make outlandish claims or bash the competition, some boast bogus testimonials, and some are just downright deceptive! Where do you draw the line to make sure your business isn’t dabbling in the business of dirty advertising? Start with the rules, set out by the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The Federal Trade Commission Act states that:

· Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive

· Advertisers must have evidence to support their claims

· Advertisements cannot be unfair

You Deceptive Little Thing!

No one wants to buy something only to be let down by great expectations from an advertisement. It turns out the FTC doesn’t want consumers to get hurt either! Your ad might be deceiving if it is misrepresenting something or omitting information that could possibly relate to whether or not a consumer would buy or use the product being advertised.

Ask yourself:

· Is the ad clear in its representation of the product?

· Is the omitted information important to the consumer?

· Does the ad stretch the truth at all?

· Would a reasonable consumer find your ad misleading?

Rest Your Case

If your advertisement is going to make a claim, it had better be supported! This is especially important in ads that make claims about health and safety. Evidence for health and safety claims must be backed up with substantial and reliable scientific evidence.

Some things to keep in mind:

· Statements from customers aren’t sufficient evidence for claims.

· Money-back or other guarantees do not validate claims.

· You must have the level of evidence you say you have (e.g., statistics, studies, etc.).

· Tests or studies backing up claims must be conducted in accordance with standards set out by experts in the field.

Play Fair

Does your ad play fair? Can it hold up to ethical standards? Although it has been debated whether or not “unfairness” can be encompassed by a set of rules, the FTC sees ads or business practices as unfair if they:

· Could injure customers

· Violate public policy

· Are unethical or dishonest

Showing Your Competitive Side

Mentioning your competitor or comparing your product to another brand has become one of the most popular advertising techniques, but it can bring substantial risk. It is legal to compare your product and service to a competitor, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take you to court for it. Keep within the law by:

· Staying truthful when making comparisons

· Using the registered trademark symbol if you show a competitor’s logo or name

· Always having evidence for your claims about competitors

· Providing a disclosure, explaining you have no affiliation with the company you are comparing

These are very broad guidelines, but they are a great starting point to use when evaluating your own advertising. You may also want to check with the state you live in as well as the states where you do business to see if any other specific advertising laws apply. If you are uncertain whether you are in line with the law, another option is to run your proposed advertising plans by a lawyer who is well-versed in advertising law. Visit the FTC online for more information on advertising laws, rules and guidelines.

Sources:

Tens Things to Do So Your Ads Comply with Advertising Laws (Advertising Compliance Service)

Fair Advertising FAQ: A Guideline for Small Business (Bureau of Consumer Protection)

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