Truthful Blogging: A Guide to Product Claims and FTC Compliance for Bloggers
As a blogger, it's important to be familiar with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) truth-in-advertising laws when making product claims in your blog. These laws are designed to protect consumers from deceptive advertising practices and ensure that advertisers provide truthful and accurate information. This article on truthful blogging for product claims and FTC compliance for bloggers provides an overview of key considerations and best practices when making product claims.
Know the FTC Guidelines
As a blogger, you should know and understand the FTC guidelines on truth-in-advertising to help ensure your blog content and product claims comply with this law. The FTC provides valuable resources for you, including the FTC's Endorsement Guides and Dot Com Disclosures. These provide helpful information on how to make accurate and transparent claims. Read, understand, and remain current on these guidelines to help ensure your blogging is compliant.
Disclose Material Connections
The FTC requires bloggers who have a material connection to the company or brand whose products they are endorsing in exchange for payment or something of value to disclose this to their readers. A material connection includes receiving free products, monetary compensation, or any other benefit received from the company. Your disclosure should be clear, conspicuous, and placed where your readers can easily see them, such as at the beginning of a blog post or near an affiliate link.
Bear in mind that a single disclosure on your blog’s home page will not meet this requirement because visitors of your blog site may miss it. The same hold trues for a clickable button labeled “disclosure,” “legal,” or any other type of statement that links to a full disclosure. The FTC finds a hyperlink fails to convey the importance, nature, and relevance of the disclosure. Also, the likelihood of visitors actually clicking on the button is anticipated to be low, leading them to miss it. Instead, including a simple statement like “Thanks to XYZ brand for the free product” at the beginning of your blog post in a way that is hard for your readers to miss is best practice and complies with this legal requirement.
Clearly Label Advertising Content
When a blogger receives compensation for writing a blog about a product, the blog content must clearly indicate it is sponsored or advertising content to avoid readers interpreting the content as editorial. By clearly labeling your blog as advertising content, you build and maintain trust with your readers. For example, a simple statement like “advertisement,” “ad,” or “sponsored” will do.
Avoid Unsubstantiated Claims
The FTC monitors product clams for non-FDA approved drugs to ensure that any claims, including endorsements and testimonials, do not contain health-based claims and are not misleading, exaggerated, or deceptive. Non-FDA approved drugs include, but are not limited to, wellness products, over-the-counter products, skincare products, and pet products. Health-based claims include a statement that a product can cure, mitigate, or treat any serious disease, a statement about a product’s effectiveness, or a statement about a product’s performance. As a blogger, you should only state what you know you can prove.
Avoid Deceptive Practices
Bloggers should refrain from engaging in practices that could be considered unfair or deceptive under the truth-in-advertising law. Be honest and transparent in your statements, and do not create false perceptions about a product's features, benefits, performance, or effectiveness.
For example, let's say a beauty blogger promotes a skincare product, claiming it can eliminate wrinkles and fine lines in less than a week. The blogger provides before-and-after photos that show dramatic improvements to the skin after using the product for less than a week. However, the blogger fails to disclose that the "after' photo was digitally altered and not a true reflection of results from using the skincare product. By misleading the blogger's audience with manipulated images and false claims, the blogger has engaged in a deceptive practice in violation of the FTC truth-in-advertising law.
Use Clear Language
When describing a product in your blog, use clear and unambiguous language that accurately represents the product’s features, benefits, and limitations. Avoid making exaggerated, misleading, or confusing statements that could misrepresent a product's capabilities and mislead a consumer.
For example, let's say a food blogger writes a sponsored blog post about a new brand of organic energy bars. The blogger claims that consuming one of these energy bars provides enough energy to power through an entire day of intense workouts. The blogger also claims the energy bar is equivalent to consuming three cups of coffee. The blogger has no scientific evidence or substantiation of the product claims. By making unsupported claims and exaggerating the product's capabilities, the blogger has engaged in misleading practices in violation of the FTC truth-in-advertising law.
Implement Disclosure Policies
As a blogger, you should implement a disclosure policy on your blog site that outlines your commitment to transparency and compliance with FTC guidelines. Clearly communicate your policy to readers and adhere to it consistently. Your disclosure policy can be a separate webpage on your site, included in your blog post, and as a part of your blog newsletter sent to your subscribers.
As a responsible blogger, you should ask the sponsor or brand representative questions about the product you plan to endorse, such as:
For health-based claims, do you have scientific studies, human clinical trials, research data, or other types of independent testing on the product that supports the product's claims?
Are there any limitations or potential side effects associated with the product that I should be aware of?
Can you disclose any potential risks or uncertainties related to the product's performance or effectiveness?
Are there any specific claims or statements that you would like me to include or avoid in my blog post?
Do you have any company guidelines for bloggers that write about your products?
Do you have a list, policy, or recommendations about what I can and cannot legally say about your product?
Can you provide any guidelines or recommendations about what I can and cannot legally say about the product?
Asking these types of questions should be part of your due diligence process to ensure that any product claims you make in your blog are accurate, truthful, not misleading, and legally compliant. Additionally, your questions should be submitted in writing, and you should receive, or request to receive, the answers in writing so that you have a record of these communications should you ever need to refer to them in the event of an alleged misunderstanding, miscommunication, or dispute.
The business of blogging requires bloggers, just like any other business, to keep sufficient records of any products you promote. By maintaining records, bloggers have a resource that can serve as evidence to demonstrate legal compliance. Examples of the types of records a blogger should consider retaining include:
Communications exchanged with product sponsors or brand representatives. This includes emails, agreements, and discussions related to endorsements, compensation, or material connections. These records may serve as evidence of the nature and extent of relationships with sponsors and brand representatives.
If you’re making health-based claims about a product's performance or benefits, obtain and retain a copy of the product’s substantiation documentation. This may include scientific studies on the product, research data, test results, or expert opinions that support the product claims made in your blog post.
Financial transactions related to your product promotions, such as payments received for sponsored posts or commissions earned through affiliate marketing. These records demonstrate transparency and help substantiate any income claims made.
Since bloggers mostly rely on product information they receive from the company, you should consider asking the company for an indemnification agreement to protect you against legal liability arising from the products you promote on the company's behalf. Generally, if a blogger faces legal issues due to false claims, unsubstantiated health claims, or any other product-related disputes, the company will be legally obligated to defend and compensate the blogger. By securing an indemnification agreement, bloggers can have peace of mind, minimize their financial risk, and mitigate potential legal consequences.
Bloggers, like any other business that engages in advertising and marketing products, have a duty to keep informed on the FTC guidelines and truth-in-advertising law. The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and new regulations may emerge. Stay informed on these laws to ensure your blogging practices remain compliant.
Know, understand, and remain current with FTC truth-in-advertising law when blogging about products and making claims about those products. Remember to disclose material connections, only make substantiated claims where appropriate, use clear language, and clearly label content as advertising. Also, ask the company questions about the product, maintain records, and consider securing an indemnification agreement from the company to protect your interests and mitigate your risk of legal liability. By staying informed on the law and implementing best practices, bloggers are in a far better position to navigate the complex issues relating to product claims while ensuring compliance with FTC regulations and building trust with their audience.
The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. Nothing stated in this article should be taken as legal advice or legal opinion for any individual matter. As legal developments occur, the information contained in this article may not be the most up-to-date legal or other information.