Online Advertising Laws

Truth in Online Advertising

Online advertising laws? Maybe you thought there was no such thing. Wrong! The internet may be relatively new but the same laws that applied to traditional advertising still apply on the Web.

Before you start promoting products or service online, be sure you don't run afoul of the online promotion guidelines and online advertising laws established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Make no mistake. The folks at the FTC are working hard to stamp out fraud and deception that might dampen consumer confidence in the e-marketplace.

The web falls under the FTC's jurisdiction because the same consumer protection laws that apply in the real world also apply online.

For example, the FTC Act's prohibition on "unfair or deceptive acts or practices" covers advertising claims, marketing and promotional activities, and sales practices in general. The Act is not limited to any particular medium, and it most certainly applies online.

In other words, the same rules that apply to print ads apply to online ads. That means:

  • online ads must be truthful and not misleading;
  • online advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims;
  • online advertising cannot be unfair; and
  • any disclosures you make must be clear and conspicuous.

One of the most important aspects of online advertising law is disclosure. In reviewing online ads, advertisers must assume that site visitors won't read an entire Web site. It is therefore very important for advertisers to draw attention to any disclosures.

As you may know, disclosures represent the additional information you give to consumers that isn't specified directly in the ad; it's your chance to avoid any accusation of deception or omissions of material insights on your products or services.

At the end of the day, it's smart to adopt the perspective of a reasonable consumer. That's the litmus test that ultimately will be applied in a worst case if you are accused of bad behavior with respect to your online advertising..

The key takeaway in understanding online advertising law is that the FTC will enforce its consumer protection laws even in cyberspace.

While the general principles of print, radio and TV advertising law apply to online ads, there are new issues all time.

Businesses developing online ads need to stay current on the latest legal interpretations and be sure that they comply with online advertising law. If you don't have time to stay current on your own, be sure to run your online advertising campaign by a competent lawyer with deep knowledge of Internet and online advertising case law.

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