You know those weight-loss commercials where the shiny, newly-thin real person says “I lost X number of pounds using product Y!!!!!”….and then there is that fine print down at the bottom of the tv screen that says “results not typical”? Yeah, that results not typical thing is super important. It means the difference between following the law, and breaking it.
When I see online business owners talking about how much money they made, and how you can make that much, too if you just buy their (fill in the blank), it always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I want to shout at them — “BE CAREFUL! Don’t over-promise! And for Pete’s sake…don’t be so tacky and used-car salesman-y”.
But here’s the rub: this kind of marketing works amazingly well, especially for people that are new and looking for answers. Which makes it even more tacky. I do not appreciate anyone being taken advantage of, and when you take advantage of new, hopeful business owners, I just can’t even take it. I see red.
Marketing on the internet (i.e.on Facebook, in Facebook groups, on Twitter or any other social medias, on websites, or in opt-in offers) is no different than marketing on TV, in print, or on radio. There are laws that dictate what you can and can’t say. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) says it this way:
“Advertising on the Internet? The rules that apply to other forms of advertising apply to online marketing, too. These standards protect businesses and consumers – and help maintain the credibility of the Internet as an advertising medium.”
Since I am not an attorney, I don’t want to give legal advice. But I do want to point you in the right direction for getting REAL information about how to avoid being tacky and/or being sued. And just remember, when you are small and just starting out, the likelihood of someone suing you is much smaller than when you’ve become super well-known and influential. And the more successful you are, the bigger the target could be on your back, and the more assets you stand to loose should someone sue you.
Here is the language from the FTC rule guideline:
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.
The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising in any medium. That is, advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers. A claim can be misleading if relevant information is left out or if the claim implies something that’s not true.
And just an FYI, because many of my clients and peers are web developers, graphic designers, and marketing agencies, the FTC calls out that you could be liable, too. Here’s what it says about you:
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.
So here’s the deal: be honest and transparent. Be real and do what feels right, not what you think is going to make you the most money. Don’t be afraid to check in with an attorney if you are unsure of what you should or shouldn’t do.
And when someone like me reaches out to you inside a Facebook group to tell you to be careful, please don’t tell me that “I have scarcity thinking or money blocks, ’cause otherwise I’d be celebrating other women’s successes”. This is actually what I’ve been told several times by women. It makes me feel empathy for her that she would think that way for herself, and it makes me freaking pissed off that she’d be so presumptuous to make claims about my mentality or that I don’t celebrate other women’s successes. Anyone who knows me knows that is at the very heart of who I am. So then I get sad again…because I only want what is good and honest and pure and positive. So this post is even tough for me to write…but if it helps just ONE of you, I’ve done my duty. And I imagine that I could get some backlash for it, but at this point, I am willing to take that risk if the reward is to be helpful.
Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney and I never wanna be one. This post represents my personal opinion only!
Be careful when you search royalty-free photo sites for the term “woman in handcuffs”. Ahem.