The Federal Trade Commission did something unusual on Tuesday: It prescribed a quick and dirty way for advertisers to disclose an ad message on Twitter. The solution? Put "Ad:" before a tweet and use just three characters out of the allotted 140.
"They actually gave us an example," says Eric Goldman, a professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law. Goldman says that usually the FTC is clear about what it doesn'twant advertisers to do in social media, but is much more reticent when it comes to making recommendations. ("Sponsored" is also acceptable for tweets, the FTC notes in the report, though that takes up six more characters.)
Goldman says the other takeaway from the FTC's list of recommendations for marketers is that the agency is not sympathetic to marketers' complaints about the limits of the technology. If you feel that 140 characters isn't enough to make your pitch and provide a clear disclaimer, then the FTC thinks you should go elsewhere.
For the undeterred, the FTC offered lots of negative examples. "#Spon" will not work as shorthand for "sponsored," for instance and other abbreviations are also discouraged in favor of clear language. Using hashtag after a Bit.ly link won't work since most consumers don't read on after the link. "It's all very much about placement," says Brian Heidelberger, an attorney atWinston & Strawn LLP.
The vast majority of brands' communication on Twitter and other online formats in which space is limited will not have to worry about making such disclosures. But if your communication is an endorsement or a claim, then you'll have to watch out for FTC scrutiny. Heidelberger says that until now, marketers have largely been in the dark about what the FTC was looking for. That's because cases between the FTC and marketers are usually not made public. But Goldman says that if you keep a close eye on the FTC, "They are quite transparent about what they want." Goldman continues: "The FTC is like a battleship. They don't turn very quickly, but you can see the arc."