Are your Online Automotive Ads in Jeopardy?

Andrew Park blogposts, Compliance 0 Comments

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Staying compliant with digital marketing.

Citation for noncompliance by the FTC and by certain state agencies can be painfully costly. Carving out a clear protocol for online ad disclosure can help to keep a dealer safe from these fees.

Most modern dealers engage in at least some form of digital promotion/marketing.  For many, disclaimers and compliance remain an area of change and uncertainty. Even though guidelines have been in place since 2000, some agencies continue to view the internet from a “wild west” perspective, creating ads with an unclear path to any kind of disclaimer whatsoever. This is a dangerous practice and it is often not the fault of the dealer principle.

Improperly disclosed digital ads typically occur for one of three reasons.  It could be that either the dealer and or the agency aren’t aware of the FTC’s most up to date requirements and guidelines stated in “Dot com disclosures.”  It could also be that the dealer and agency are educated on these guidelines but a communication breakdown occurred between dealer principle and agency or contractor. And lastly, it could be that the dealer and the agency simply choose to ignore the guidelines.

The guidelines that exist for properly disclosing online ads are very clear.  However, there are many specific rules that leave a lot of room for the interpretation of the FTC.  The following are Tom Park Media’s best practices for properly disclosing digital ads and staying compliant online.

1.  Disclaimer Uniformity

If an ad has an offer then the disclaimer should be the exact same disclaimer that would appear in a broadcast ad.  For example, if the ad is for a lease payment make sure to include information such as year, model, stock number, trim level, MSRP, sale price, term, lease provisions, amount due at signing, dealer cash/fees, offer end date, any relevant tax title and license inclusions for your state and any relevant language such as “for well qualified buyers through..”

The disclaimer itself may not be immediately available in its entirety on the ad, but should be easily available.

2.  If the disclaimer is on a landing page, keep it clear

The FTC makes exceptions for disclosing offers on small digital display ads.  The offer still has to be properly disclosed, but it can be on a landing page.  To stay safe, make sure that any disclaimers on linked pages are clear and above the fold on whatever device may be used.  Also, make sure that disclaimers are visible before any additional forms or calls to action.

Disclaimers can also be hyperlinked from an ad but we would recommend staying away from language such as “see details,” and being more forthcoming with something along the lines of “Important lease information.” The same rules as stated above apply here, stay above the fold and in front of forms. When using hyperlinks, also make sure the link is close in proximity to the offer.

3.  Don’t intentionally disguise/bury a disclaimer

As the title suggests, digital disclaimers should never be intentionally small and hard to read.  This also includes design/palette choices such as using low contrast text.

Don’t try and scale down an entire automotive disclaimer onto a small banner ad.  Always keep the disclaimer close in proximity to the offer if it is on the ad itself.

4.  Include pertinent data where possible

Obviously, an entire automotive disclaimer cannot fit on many forms of digital ads. Consider disclosing any pertinent information to the consumer where possible on the ad itself.

For example, on a lease payment offer on a small banner include the trim level of the vehicle, a lease term and a “for well qualified buyers.”  Make sure that the full disclaimer is included prominently on the linked landing page.

5.  Work with an agency that you can trust

A good ad agency or marketing firm will be diligent in staying up to date with compliance laws.  Make sure that you have the right team working for you.  They should be able to drive traffic to your lot and showroom while keeping you safe and compliant.

If there is uncertainty in disclosing a specific offer online, then just stick to promoting your brand and event online without a price.  If an event is properly branded and trafficked by your agency, then there may not even need to be an offer in the online ad.

In closing

Staying compliant on all mediums should be a concern for any advertising dealer.  Failure to comply with current laws could result in civil lawsuits and fines of up to $16,000 per day per violation.  This is all the more reason to partner with a trusted ad agency or consulting group that is up to date on the latest rules and regulations both state and federal.

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