FTC Warns 60 Top Advertisers About Ad Disclosure Flaws

Letters to TV and Print Advertisers Follow Guideline Update for Online Disclosures

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Statue at FTC Headquarters in Washington,
Statue at FTC Headquarters in Washington,
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The fine print may not be good enough as far as the Federal Trade Commission is concerned.

The agency on Tuesday, as part of an initiative called "Operation Full Disclosure," sent more than 60 companies letters claiming they did not provide satisfactory disclosure in TV and print ads to consumers. The missives, which the FTC said it sent to 20 of the top 100 advertisers in the U.S., are a follow-up to guidelines for online disclosures updated last year.

The FTC would not name any of the firms that were sent the letters, and would not provide copies of any of the letters to Advertising Age. The agency plans to monitor the advertisers to ensure they are abiding by disclosure guidelines, said an FTC spokesman.

"The FTC's longstanding guidance to companies is that disclosures in their ads should be close to the claims to which they relate -- not hidden or buried in unrelated details -- and they should appear in a font that is easy to read and in a shade that stands out against the background," stated a press release from the commission. "Disclosures for television ads 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 agency listed several examples of inadequate disclosure red flags, including ads that promote a "risk free" or "worry free" trial period, testimonials in weight-loss product ads that fail to reveal that the testimonial does not reflect a typical consumer experience, and ads that suggest a product is better than competitors without explaining the factors the comparison was based on.

The crux of the warning to advertisers: make disclosures clear and conspicuous.

The letters are part of an ongoing FTC initiative intended to curb misleading advertising. The commission in March 2013 updated guidelines originally established in 2000 for digital marketing communications including mobile and social marketing.

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