Many B2C websites have appeared in recent years with products, services, price lists, and pictures representing the actual consumer goods that a business sells. Many websites are put together as a means of having an Internet presence without understanding the full implications of not maintaining the site. Little or no thought has gone in to the general upkeep of the site. Overlooking the general upkeep can get you in a world of hurt.
The FTC has Facts For Businesses, a set of general guidelines that are quite helpful.
Advertising and Marketing on the Internet: Rules of the Road
Advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers.
In addition, claims must be substantiated.
GENERAL OFFERS AND CLAIMS
PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
The Federal Trade Commission Act allows the FTC to act in the interest of all consumers to prevent deceptive and unfair acts or practices. In interpreting Section 5 of the Act, the Commission has determined that a representation, omission or practice is deceptive if it is likely to:
* mislead consumers and
* affect consumers’ behavior or decisions about the product or service.
In addition, an act or practice is unfair if the injury it causes, or is likely to cause, is:
* not outweighed by other benefits and
* not reasonably avoidable.
Under these legal guidelines there certainly are a lot of areas where having a misleading ad can bring about a lawsuit.
“But, I am not advertising on the Internet. I don’t use PPC (pay-per-click), newspaper ads, magazine advertisements, or any type of advertising. So, you see, there is no way I could be doing any type of false advertising.”
You have a website online with prices that are out of date, pictures that do not fully explain the details, and other descriptions that are flat out wrong. By just having an Internet presence you are in fact marketing your business online. Maybe it is not the best of marketing, but never the less, by having a business online the website gets picked up by search engines. Other websites and directories may also be linking to yours. If a new customer comes upon your site through any media form, even an E-mail signature block, and the information is not accurate or misleading, you may very well be guilty of false advertising.
Webmasters and Website Designers
Not only can a business be held liable for false advertising, but so can the webmaster or the designer of the website. See the FTC quote:
Sellers are responsible for claims they make about their products and services. Third parties – such as advertising agencies or website designers and catalog marketers – also may be liable for making or disseminating deceptive representations if they participate in the preparation or distribution of the advertising, or know about the deceptive claims.
* Advertising agencies or website designers are responsible for reviewing the information used to substantiate ad claims. They may not simply rely on an advertiser’s assurance that the claims are substantiated. In determining whether an ad agency should be held liable, the FTC looks at the extent of the agency’s participation in the preparation of the challenged ad, and whether the agency knew or should have known that the ad included false or deceptive claims.
Look at that closely again. Website designers and catalog marketers may be opening themselves up to legal action. By disseminating deceptive representations of products or services and they participate in the preparation or distribution of the advertising, OR simply know about the deceptive claims, they can be held liable.
Catalog marketers have a responsibility to check out the claims. Products that sound too good to be true can come back to bite the catalog marketer.
To protect themselves, catalog marketers should ask for material to back up claims rather than repeat what the manufacturer says about the product. If the manufacturer doesn’t come forward with proof or turns over proof that looks questionable, the catalog marketer should see a yellow “caution light” and proceed appropriately, especially when it comes to extravagant performance claims, health or weight loss promises, or earnings guarantees. In writing ad copy, catalogers should stick to claims that can be supported. Most important, catalog marketers should trust their instincts when a product sounds too good to be true.
For the complete Internet marketing and online advertising information from the FTC click here for the Advertising and Marketing on the Internet: Rules of the Road in PDF format.
Note: Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.
Internet Marketing and Online Advertising Procurement
It is your desire to increase online traffic, Web business, and improve sales. Sometimes to do this requires stepping back for a moment and analyze the false honesty your website might portray. Taking a critical marketing approach, looking at the site from a consumer standpoint, and asking yourself the tough advertising questions may reveal a foundation that needs to be fixed. Fixing the foundation will be key for your future e-Business success.
For a Free, No Obligation, Website Analysis, contact Professional Web Services, SEO Internet marketing, Online advertising, and Web branding specialists.