Business owners, brand managers, marketing directors and creatives — this one’s for you. When was the last time the word compliance was heard in your office? Probably not recently…if ever.
We often get so caught up in the creative aspects of our marketing and advertising jobs that we fail to consider the legal implications of the claims, disclosures and transparency of our copy. Marketing compliance is a big deal — it protects consumers from being tricked, misled or lied to by a business. Compliance laws also limit the information that companies can ask consumers for, regulate communications between consumers and businesses and protect consumer privacy.
In this blog, we assess the best practices for compliance in marketing, share how your marketing team can follow compliance guidelines and how you can avoid compliance issues.
Who Sets Compliance Guidelines?
Compliance guidelines are set by the government — specifically the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC. established in 1914, the FTC was created to “prevent unfair methods of competition” in commerce. The role of this organization has since grown to protect consumers from deceptive and unfair business practices. According to their website, their main goal is to protect consumers, followed by maintaining competition and advancing organizational performance.
To protect consumers, the FTC conducts investigations into companies that may be violating laws and if necessary, sue the companies or people who are in violation. The FTC also strives to educate consumers and businesses so that both parties are aware of their individual rights and responsibilities. Issues about data security as they relate to consumers also funnel through the FTC.
Why Do You Need to Follow Compliance Laws?
Simply put, following compliance laws maintains the integrity and reputation of your business or agency. In a more extreme case, following compliance laws will prevent your company from getting involved in a costly lawsuit that could severely hurt your company and its employees.
It’s also important as you need to protect the brand you work for or represent — negative impressions of the company can hurt business. Sure, a small business maybe able to violate compliance laws once or twice and not get caught, but why risk it?
Compliance: Not Just Print
As marketing technologies and channels have evolved, so have compliance laws. Now, the same laws that apply to print ad copy or a billboard are also applicable to your 140-character tweet. Instagram and Facebook are also subject to the same compliance laws as traditional advertising, making it crucial that your entire team understands the expectations of compliance.
So how do you ensure your work is compliant and enforce compliance when noncompliant work is presented to you?
The first step in enforcing compliance is ensuring your team knows what it is. Everybody is responsible to creating compliant work — not just the marketing team, not just sales and not just upper management.
Even if your company has a relatively low risk for compliance issues, it’s still important that all current and new employees understand the expectations. Having a clear procedure in place for checking and editing work before it is seen by a client or the public is incredibly helpful. Sometimes, the employee who writes the copy is only able to perceive it as they intend it — it’s vital that multiple other people read it to ensure it has the correct intention and tone, to prevent misinterpretation.
All employees should know that their work is going to be monitored for compliance. And if you’re an agency representing a client, your client should know that you’ll be monitoring any of their personal posts or independent work — your reputations are symbiotic.
If you’re a marketing agency creating work on behalf of a client, are you liable if one of their promotions doesn’t meet compliance guidelines? As the client signed off on the work, this is muddy water — it’s best to avoid it completely. Your client is entrusting you with their brand, and this means not tarnishing their reputation with a compliance issue.
Let’s talk about the main issues marketers and businesses run into with compliance violations. The guidelines and laws are constantly being updated to reflect new technology and best practices, so it’s recommended to pay attention to news from the FTC to stay current.
Being deceptive in advertising typically relates to the price of an item, especially when there is a special offer involved. Advertisements can’t be deceptive or misleading — it’s important that you disclose any necessary product information, like restrictions on an offer, purchase limits and shipping information.
You can’t say a product is on sale for $20.00 and then add additional fees at the point of purchase — unless that information is disclosed first. Many “as-seen-on-TV” product manufacturers have found themselves in hot water for misleading claims about the product being free for just the cost of shipping and handling.
Back Up Your Claims
If you’re running a product or service ad and you use phrases like “Proven Results” or “40% Reduction in Visible Lines” — you better be able to back that up. The FTC requires that you have a reasonable basis back up your claims.
You can’t use anecdotal evidence to support the claim (sorry, but, “it worked for my cousin” won’t cut it), the evidence must be provided by a reliable study. It the claim has caveats, such as “40% Reduction in Visible Lines” — when used twice a day and in conjunction with another product, those caveats must be disclosed, too.
It’s always advised to get an expert to back up any claims that relate to science, medicine or engineering. And of course, if there are any charge in addition to the purchase price — you need to let people know.
Disclose Your Influencers
This is becoming a big issue within the current social media landscape. Someone with thousands of followers will post about a product “they just love” and that they “don’t know how they’ve lived without it!” — their followers will be interested in the product and ultimately, may buy it. This is advertising. These people are being paid to promote clothing, supplements, makeup, jewelry and more online.
Influencer marketing is effective and works for brands with a younger target audience. But if you use influencers to promote your product, they have to disclose that they are affiliated with your brand and that the post is sponsored.
Especially when you consider some influencers who promote multiple products — do they really like them and use them? Or is it just a job? Consumers deserve to know.
Using an Agency
If you’re unsure about compliance, you can consult with an agency — at InnerAction Media, we understand compliance and can help you ensure your company is up to par. Our team specialize in healthcare, law and construction marketing and have created award-winning campaigns for clients in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Get in touch below.