This post was written by Sulina D. Gabale and Stacy K. Marcus.
In letters sent to more than 60 companies, including 20 of the top 100 TV and print advertisers in the country, the FTC warned companies to review specific ads to ensure their disclosures are “clear and conspicuous,” and that they comply with federal advertising regulations.
In a press release on Tuesday, the FTC explained the initiative – Operation Full Disclosure – as the agency’s latest effort to guide companies to follow proper disclosure standards and avoid misleading consumers. Specifically, the agency targeted disclosures made in fine print or that were easy to miss by the average consumer. The FTC explained that disclosures should be in proximity to the claims to which they relate and in easy-to-read font color, size, and style, so consumers have access to all relevant information. For TV ads, disclosures “should be on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood, and other elements in the ads should not obscure or distract from the disclosures.”
The FTC is keeping the names of those companies targeted secret in an effort to allow them a chance to adhere to disclosure laws. However, without getting too specific, the agency hinted toward recurring problems. For example, the FTC explained in some ads, “the advertiser claimed that a product was unique or superior in a product category, but did not adequately disclose how narrowly the advertiser defined the category, while other comparative ads did not adequately disclose the basis of their comparisons.”
What does this mean for other advertisers? Though the letters only addressed certain companies, the initiative is essentially a warning shot signaling others to follow suit. The FTC cautioned, “advertisers who did not receive a letter should not assume that their advertisements are fine.”
While Operation Full Disclosure may act as just a warning, here are a few things that advertisers should keep in mind:
- Don’t bury the details – disclosures must be in unambiguous language, clear and conspicuous, and placed in proximity to relevant claims
- Focus on the font – disclosures should appear in a font that is easy to read and in a size and shade that stands out against the background
- Disclose all conditions, terms, and limitations
Operation Full Disclosure has so far been limited to TV and print ads; however, crackdown over online advertisements may be just around the corner, following the FTC’s recent “.com Disclosures” guidelines published in March 2013.