FTC Rules–Disclosure of Affiliate Links

Affiliate Links Must be Disclosed!

We’ve all heard it. Over and over. Unless our heads are buried in the sand or we aren’t real bloggers.

(Uh-oh, I better disclose the fact that I’m an affiliate for Inmotion Hosting and Namecheap.).

OK. I did it. I disclosed! All is good. Right? Wrong? Or is all good?


It’s Not So Clear What “Disclosure” Means

The FTC, in their 2013 update, tried to make it more clear where disclosure should be and what message it should convey.

In the press release (full press release here) for that update (full update here), the FTC said :

The 2000 guidance stated that to help ensure clear and conspicuous disclosures, advertisers should consider the disclosure’s placement and proximity to the relevant ad claim, its prominence, whether audio disclosures are loud enough to be heard, and whether visual disclosures appear for long enough to be noticed.  Although the 2000 guidelines defined proximity as “near, and when possible, on the same screen,” and stated that advertisers should “draw attention to” disclosures, the new guidance says disclosures should be “as close as possible” to the relevant claim.

Uhhhh . . . so the new guidelines say that affiliate disclosures should be “as close as possible” to the relevant claim. That’s ridiculous.

What does “as close as possible” really mean?

“As close as possible,” means, to me, that the disclosure should be right next to the affiliate link.

So, it should look like this:

I use Inmotion Hosting (this link is an affiliate link) to host this website.
I use Namecheap (this link is an affiliate link) for my domain name registrar because they have the lowest prices on a privacy protection, a service which is often significantly overpriced.

There. That’s “as close as possible.” Anything else would not be as close as possible. So, in the event that a blogger or affiliate marketer has their disclosure anywhere except right next to the actual affiliate link, that would be a violation.

So then I myself would be in violation because I don’t disclose my affiliate links like that.

I have my affiliate link disclosure in my primary menu under the about me primary menu item. Hover over the “about me” menu item and you will see it.


So Where Should I put the Affiliate Link Disclosure?

So, I obviously don’t believe the FTC means that every affiliate marketer has to have their disclosure right on top of each link. If I did, that’s the way I’d do it.

The intent of the regulation is that readers aren’t fooled into believing that an affiliate blogger’s recommendation for a product or service is legitimate.

Danny Brown, on his blog, puts it this way:

. . . with the increase in digital advertising and the rise in bloggers monetizing their blogs through advertorials and paid content (sponsored, affiliate or otherwise), the FTC  wanted to ensure consumers were aware when something was being promoted for pay versus being a genuine recommendation.

(But wait? Is the FTC saying that it’s impossible for an affiliate marketer to provide a genuine overview of–anything? )

I could rabbit-trail on that question, but I won’t (for now).

So where should the affiliate link disclosure be placed? Nobody knows. Ultimately, the blogger or affiliate marketer has to be sure their readers know that they’re utilizing affiliate links. So however you get that message across is fine. Just be sure that your readers know. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t make readers look for it. Make it clear in your writings and recommendations. If it’s not hidden, you’re probably OK.


My Problem With All of It

I have no problem disclosing the fact that I’m an affiliate for Inmotion Hosting and Namecheap.

I don’t buy the FTC’s tenet that an affiliate marketer can’t provide a legitimate recommendation. An affiliate marketer can and many (like me) do.

The FTC is not the problem. All affiliate marketers suffer as a result of unscrupulous affiliate bloggers and marketers.  The FTC grew tired of folks being bamboozled into thinking they were buying some amazing product or service when in reality it was, in fact, garbage. And when, in reality, the person or business recommending the product or service had never used it.

The unscrupulous characters have given us a bad name and we have to live with it.

Be a part of the solution. Be honest with your readers. Recommend only products or services you know to be of high quality. Provide content that is legitimate, unique and useful.

What’s the Punishment for Not Disclosing Properly?

So what will happen if you don’t disclose that you’re an affiliate marketer?

Nothing.

That’s right. I’m trying to find someone who’s been fined by the FTC and I can’t fine anyone. Do you know someone who’s been fined by the FTC for improper disclosure of affiliate links? Let me know about it.

The following is an excerpt from this article which describes an FTC crackdown on improper disclosures.

Recently the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) sent letters of warning to sixty companies that made improper disclosures in print and TV ads, including twenty of the largest advertisers in the country.

The action, dubbed Operation Full Disclosure, singled out ads featuring disclosures that were hard to find, misleading, or lacking in important information. Those sixty companies will have to correct the ads in question, and the FTC recommends that all companies review all of their advertisements to make sure disclosures are ‘clear and conspicuous’ and in line with all FTC guidelines.

So what was the punishment? A fine? I didn’t see it mentioned. The sixty companies had to (shudder) “correct the ads in question.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t comply with the rules. I comply. I think honesty and transparency is crucial in successfully marketing anything. That’s why I’m open about what I do. My system allows me to help you while you help me by buying something you’d have to buy anyway. That’s a good deal for both of us.

Sorry, rabbit trail. I am an affiliate marketer after all.

I’m saying I just don’t see a consequence severe enough to convince bloggers and affiliate markets to disclose that they’re selling something.


Just Be Honest!

Review your website. See if customers might be misled by your affiliate links. If so, improve your disclosure.

If it’s obvious to your readers what’s really going on with the services and products you recommend, that’s good.

Transparency builds trust with your readers.

And it’s the law.


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