Advertising lawyers, including in-house counsel and outside counsel, need to comply with laws involving false, unfair and deceptive acts

Big Print. Little Print. What's the Deal?

How to Disclose the Details

Computer sellers - online and brick-and-mortar - inundate consumers with advertisements for "free" or low-cost computers. The offers usually involve rebates of several hundred dollars off the computer's purchase price - if the consumer commits to a long-term contract for Internet service. Some of the offers may be good deals for consumers, but they are likely to involve complicated transactions.

Some advertisements for "low cost" computers omit important restrictions or conditions about the "deal," or bury them in fine print or obscure locations. This information should be disclosed clearly and conspicuously in the advertising so that consumers can evaluate the merits of an offer and make an informed purchasing decision.

Rebated Computers and Internet Service

Many rebate promotions use big print to tout the after-rebate price of the computer. But often, the total price the consumer must pay up-front is buried in the fine print, if it's included at all. Your advertisements should prominently state the before-rebate cost of the computer, as well as the amounts of the rebates. Only then will consumers know their actual out-of-pocket cost and have the information they need to comparison shop.

In addition, advertisers should prominently disclose whether the consumer is required to purchase Internet service to qualify for the "low cost" deal. The ad should state the key terms of the purchase requirements, including the cost and duration of the consumer's commitment to the Internet service.

Rebate promotions should clearly detail any additional terms and conditions that consumers need to know, like:

Advertisers should tell consumers what components are included in the offer. For example, if a monitor is pictured in the ad but is not part of the deal, you must state this fact clearly and prominently. You also should include the cost of the monitor if it's sold as an add-on.

Don't Bury the Details

Your ads should clearly and conspicuously disclose all the information about an offer that is likely to affect a consumer's purchasing decision. Disclose the most important information - like the terms affecting the basic cost of the offer - near the advertised price.

Print advertisers should not attempt to hide the real cost or the critical terms or conditions by:

Television advertisers should not hide key information in:

Disclosures in Internet Advertising

Information affecting the actual cost of an offer should be disclosed close to the advertised price - that is, on the same electronic page and next to the price. Advertisers should not use pop-up windows or hyperlinks to other electronic pages to display key cost information. Hyperlinks may be useful to tell consumers about less critical terms and conditions of an offer, especially when the information may be extensive. For example, in rebate offers that require the purchase of Internet service, the cost of the Internet service should be disclosed on the same page as the advertised price of the computer. But hyperlinks may be used to direct the consumer to the cancellation terms and additional Internet connection costs of many Internet rebate offers.

When using a hyperlinked disclosure, advertisers should clearly label the hyperlink so it shows the importance, nature and relevance of the information to which it links (for example, "Early cancellation of Internet Service may result in substantial penalties. Click Here."). The hyperlink should be prominent, near the claim it is qualifying, easily noticeable, and lead directly to the qualifying information. Vague labels like "Terms and Conditions" are not enough to direct consumers to important restrictions or qualifications.

In addition, information that is significant to the advertised offer should not be buried at the end of a long web page that requires consumers to scroll past unrelated information. Consumers should not have to wander through an electronic maze to discover important conditions or limitations of an offer.

For More Information

For more information about online disclosures, including examples, see the FTC publication, Dot Com Disclosures: Information About Online Advertising. It describes the information businesses need to know to ensure that their ads comply with the law.

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