Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The FTC’s Guide to Peddling Bogus Diet Pills on Twitter

cadillac manThe last time the Federal Trade Commission issued a primer on online ads it was 2000. Things were different back then.

So, time for an update. Which is pretty straightforward.

Just like it did in the dial-up era, the FTC would like you not to lie when you sell stuff. If you’re selling $50 pearl earrings, you have to tell people that they’re not really pearl earrings.

Easy enough!

But what about newfangled stuff that didn’t exist back in 2000, like Twitter and Facebook? The FTC is glad you asked, because it has extensive thoughts about how to peddle bogus diet pills on Twitter.*

For instance: If you’re going to peddle bogus diet pills on Twitter, you have to explain that you’re getting paid to do it, and that your claims aren’t true. Right away.

This version, for example, is no good because the disclosure tweet, at the top of the timeline, comes way too long after the initial fraudulent pitch, at the bottom. I even had to break up the screenshot into two parts!

FTC Disclosure part 2
FTC Disclosure 15 part 1

Also: Don’t assume the people you are peddling bogus diet pills to can pick up on nuance. Because while it’s good that this Tweet explains that the pitch is bogus up front …

FTC Example 17 #spon

… it’s still not good enough. You may understand that “#spon” is short for “I am getting paid to peddle these bogus diet pills.” But not everyone is clever enough to pick up on that. “If a significant proportion of reasonable viewers would not, then the ad would be deceptive,” says the FTC.

Okay. So what if you stick “#spon” next to a link in the Tweet that brings you to a site where you sell bogus diet pills?

FTC disclosure #spon link

Nope, says the FTC. “Putting #spon directly after the link might confuse consumers.”

Alrighty, then. What if you just put all the disclosure stuff in the site you link to, where you’ll have more room to go into detail about the nature of the bogus diet pills and your relationship to the company that sells them?

FTC disclosure link

Sorry, dude. That won’t work, because what if people don’t click on the link? “Moreover, if consumers can buy Fat-away in brick and mortar stores, at third-party online retailers, or in any way other than by clicking on the link, consumers who do not click on the link would be misled.” (Mostly excerpted that part because it’s fun to type “Fat-away.”)

Garr. What if you jam the word “disclosure” into the link itself? Would you people understand that there’s a disclosure about the bogus diet pills then?
FTC Disclosure:link

Nuh-uh. “Consumers … would not necessarily understand what they will find at that website, or why they should click on that link.”

Ugh! This peddling bogus diet pills on Twitter thing is hard! Is there any way to do this with the FTC’s seal of approval?

Yes. Yes, there is. You say “Ad” before you start typing. And then you use the second half of the Tweet to explain that the first half of the Tweet is a lie.

FTC example 15

Boom, as the kids say. Now wait for the dollars to start pouring in!**

This next bit isn’t safe for work, and I’ve posted it before, and it’s not 100 percent on topic. But I’m posting it again. You’re welcome!

*Apologies for the image quality on the originals — maybe a sequester thing?
**Disclosure: Dollars may not literally pour in if you use this technique to peddle bogus diet pills on Twitter.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus