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Online Ad Disclosures: Online Advertising Guidelines

The Internet has introduced some interesting options to the automotive retailing industry. Pay-per-click advertising, vehicles sales across state (sometimes country and even continental) borders, Search Engine Optimization and Marketing (SEO and SEM), and Web sites that are designed to initiate the vehicle sales process are a few examples. However, the Internet has also introduced some note-worthy issues regarding online advertising claims and disclosures.

Imagine this scenario:
You, the dealer, have gone to your advertising and/or marketing professionals and asked them to create a newspaper ad that advertises the big sale you’re having over the weekend. You know these individuals will handle the ad properly, not only because they’ve done (what seems like) a million newspaper ads, but also because they know and follow advertising regulations. They know where to put the disclosures that correspond with the claims in the ad, and you know the disclosures will be literally on that ad.

The week after your big weekend sale, you decide to do some online advertising, so once again you visit your advertising/marketing professionals. You’ve been doing online advertising and classified listings successfully for a couple years, so you assume your advertising pros will handle that, too.

In all your trips to talk with your advertising and marketing specialists, did you ever discuss the new options that the Web offers of including disclosures that correspond to advertisements? Linking and scrolling are two options limited solely to Internet advertising. Before the birth of Internet advertising, advertisers couldn’t link disclosures to an ad; the term “linking” didn’t even exist in that context. Another issue they’d never considered was the ability to scroll down a Web page to read disclosures.

To illustrate how Internet advertising is different, consider the limitations of print and broadcast advertising. When advertising in traditional media (newspaper, TV, radio), your media buy is confined by space or time. You can’t include links in print advertising; technology won’t allow it. Instead, your disclosures must be printed in your valuable ad space. A radio station will not play the disclosure that went with your ad 20 minutes after they played the ad—they only play them with the commercial. Even if you are the fastest talker, you are spending your air time on something that can’t be replayed by the consumer when they are ready to shop.

While the same placement and proximity guidelines that apply to traditional media also apply to advertising online, the Internet introduces new methods of placing required disclosures. The introduction of these new methods also allows the advertiser to not waste valuable space on disclosures.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recognized the subtle differences of advertising online and developed a booklet entitled “Dot Com Disclosures” to inform businesses on advertising regulations online. “Many of the general principles of advertising law apply to Internet ads, but the new issues arise almost as fast as technology develops,” it stated.

As most dealers know, when you make particular claims (what the FTC refers to as “trigger terms” or “trigger claims”) in advertisements of any kind, disclosures are required. One example of a trigger term/claim is including a payment amount in an ad. If your ad states the customer can get a particular vehicle for $200 a month, you must include the terms of repayment. The FTC requires particular placement and proximity of these disclosures to assure potential customers will see them, and they must be clear and concise.

In a print advertisement, a disclosure should be placed adjacent to the claim; you don’t need to worry about scrolling issues or having the wrong labels on links. In an online advertisement, a link to a disclosure can be placed adjacent to the claim instead of the entire disclosure. As long as the disclosure link is properly labeled, even though the actual disclosure is on another Web page, it’s still within the FTC’s guidelines. However, the link should be obvious; this can be as simple as making all links consistent by using one color, one font and by underlining all of them.

Also, links that lead to disclosures must be labeled so that they communicate the significance of what they link to. “Dot Com Disclosures” suggested your links should not be subtle or coy—meaning they should not only stand out as a link, but also as a link to a disclosure.

If you choose not to link to disclosures and keep them adjacent to the claim they correspond to, treat them like you would in any print ad. Do not put extra spaces between the claim and the disclosure. If scrolling is required to read the disclosure, make certain you give consumers a blatant visual clue that they need to scroll down to read the disclosure(s).

When you advertise online, make sure all your links are labeled correctly and verify that you haven’t created any scrolling problems for the user. Check it on multiple screen formats to ensure that all customers see everything correctly. Last but certainly not least, make sure your online disclosures are compliant to avoid any expensive false advertising claims.

This booklet, “Dot Com Disclosures,” can easily be found at and is free to all. It provides more detailed information about disclosures included in online advertisements.

Vol 4, Issue 5


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