FTC Guidelines Include Affiliate Links
In October, Robin highlighted the key points of the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for disclosure for bloggers. The new guidelines went into effect December 1. As an avid blogger and blog reader, I have seen bloggers in blog posts when they are financially compensated and/or given free product for reviews, saying things like: This is a compensated review by BlogHer and HP. I have also seen a shift in disclosure policies- bloggers adding more details about affiliate links, financially compensated reviews, free products, etc.
The one thing that I haven’t seen is disclosure in blog posts when affiliate links are used. Affiliate marketing rewards people who are associated with a product, service or company for leads or clicks that they generate. The reward can be cash or product. Yes, most bloggers do have a statement in their disclosure policies that says their blog uses affiliate links. However, I have never seen a specific blog post say “compensated affiliate ” or something to that effect.
Since we have a client who is considering launching an affiliate program, we wanted to be sure we were clear on the law, so we did a little investigating. Our understanding of the law was that the disclosure was necessary, but since we didn’t see anyone doing it. Were we missing something?
After a bit of research, we found a webinar with Jim Edwards and Rich Cleland, Assistant Deputy at the FTC talking specifically about affiliates and the law. In the webinar Mr. Edwards asks, if a blogger uses the phrase: Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate on every post with affiliates, is the blogger in compliance with the law? Here was Mr. Cleland’s answer, which he emailed to Mr. Edwards: “The disclosure must be sufficient to alert the consumer that of the connection between the endorser. In this case it is an affiliate marketer. Your disclosure would appear to meet this requirement. The most important aspect of this kind of disclosure will be whether it is clear and conspicuous. Consumers must be able to see the disclosure when they are viewing the endorsement and at the point of the link to the seller’s website.” (Emphasis mine.)
This statement makes it clear that a blogger stating that they use affiliate links in their disclosure page is not enough. According to the FTC, a blogger must disclose within the post when they are endorsing something.
To gain further clarification, I called Mr. Cleland and asked him about affiliate links and when disclosure is necessary. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes talking with me about the matter. He said that a disclosure must be made when a blogger is recommending something and using an affiliate link. He went on to say that “the recommendation triggers the disclosure requirement.” He added that some affiliate marketing is clearly advertising and in that case a disclosure statement is not necessary. It is, however, necessary when the post includes an implied or overt recommendation.
It will be interesting to see how bloggers continue to apply these new guidelines to their blogs. What do you think about the guidelines as they apply to affiliate marketing?