Successful marketers must blend strategy and creativity with adherence to the many rules that protect the end customer. If you’re looking to develop a social media strategy, upgrade your website to conform to ADA standards, run a contest or sweepstakes, or use testimonials in your advertising, then you’ll need to understand four common regulations.
1. Website ADA Compliance
A timely topic for website owners is website ADA compliance. Governed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and detailed in Web Content Accessibility (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines, website ADA conformance is an important compliance subject, and for good reason. The premise of website ADA conformance is to have universal standards to make websites for those with disabilities. There are three levels of ADA compliance: Level A, AA and AAA. WCAG level “AA” is generally the standard to which most websites will need to adhere to the regulations are formally rolled out, which is expected to be in 2018.
Explore this website conformance infographic to learn more about ADA best practices. And, if you’re not sure if your website conforms to ADA standards, it’s easy to run a site scan report to determine what may need to be fixed.
2. CAN-SPAM Act for Email Marketing
All U.S. businesses who use email marketing must comply with the CAN SPAM Act, which stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. It’s meant to stop abusive marketing practices and carries stiff penalties for non-compliance; up to $40,654 per email per the FTC. A pharmaceutical manufacturer was fined $2.5 million for their usage of misleading subject lines, headers and not having a way to opt-out of future messages. One caveat to keep in mind is the difference between marketing and customer service emails, as CAN SPAM rules regard the marketing, non-transactional or servicing types of emails.
At a high level, all businesses need to:
- Not mislead people in the header or subject line
- If the email is an advertisement, disclose that in the email
- Include the company’s mailing address (must be a valid postal address)
- Allow people to opt-out or unsubscribe, and honor those requests within 10 business days
- Monitor what vendors are doing on your behalf – ignorance is not a defense.
3. Endorsement Guidelines from the FTC: Testimonials, Reviews & Influencer Marketing
With the rise of online reviews and influencer marketing, The FTC updated their rules on endorsing or reviewing a product and the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising. The FTC’s aim is to protect consumers from untruthful claims so they can make a sound decision when making a purchase, as most people don’t trust ads but do trust what other people say.
Here are a few of the details to keep in mind:
- Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser.
- If the person endorsing a product has a “material connection” to the seller or business, for example they receive free products in exchange for reviews, get paid to post a review, or the person endorsing the business is connected to the business owner, they must disclose this information. Here’s one example from the FTC’s guide on disclosing of material connections:
"Example 9: A young man signs up to be part of a “street team” program in which points are awarded each time a team member talks to his or her friends about a particular advertiser’s products. Team members can then exchange their points for prizes, such as concert tickets or electronics. These incentives would materially affect the weight or credibility of the team member’s endorsements. They should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, and the advertiser should take steps to ensure that these disclosures are being provided.”
4. Contests & Sweepstakes
Before you launch your next social media contest, it’s important to understand relevant compliance rules. Sweepstakes are primarily used to generate consumer interest and should be very easy to enter, while contests are typically used to engage with customers or fans. There are differences between contests and sweepstakes and both are subject to different laws, which vary by state.
Here’s the difference between contests and sweepstakes and some rules to know when you are planning your next promotion:
- Something is considered a contest if the winner(s) are determined by skill (e.g., most creative tweet, best photo)
- The criteria for how winner(s) will be judged needs to be outlined in advance
- Entries need to be selected by a judge or group that’s qualified to review, and must review according to the criteria that was outlined in the official rules
- Something is considered a sweepstakes if the winner(s) are determined by chance (e.g., one random person that entered will win)
- Entry in the sweepstakes must not require purchase or consideration
- Entrants must agree to your official rules, which must state there is “no purchase necessary”
If your promotion includes all three elements of chance, a prize, and consideration (the entrant needing to give something of value, like money or time), then it is deemed an illegal lottery. Consideration is tricky, because some states view entering online as consideration, because it may be cost-prohibitive for some to enter if they don’t have internet access. As a safeguard, some businesses offer an alternative method of entry, like mailing a postcard, to be accepted.
All contests and sweepstakes need to post official rules which can’t be buried or hard to find. It’s a good idea to keep your official rules one click away from your promotional content or advertisements. In addition, Florida, Rhode Island and New York require sponsors to register their contest or sweepstakes with the appropriate state authorities if they give away prizes totaling over $5,000. Of course, it’s important to consult your legal team to confirm that your plans align with all compliance rules and regulations.
Play by the Rules
When designing your digital marketing strategy, it’s vital to educate yourself about all compliance rules so that you know the parameters you have to work within upfront. All of these rules are in place to protect consumers, a goal that marketers and legal counsel can all agree is important. If you’d like to speak with us to leverage any of these digital tactics, please contact us.