Is Affiliate Disclosure Required in an Email?

Confused on Affiliate Disclosure in Email?

Confused about Affiliate Disclosure in Email Marketing? So am I.

After the beta launch of my SEO for Business Owners course, I’ve been planning to do a more expanded version next year (with a better title). One component of that planning is looking for partners that can help promote the course to reach a broader audience.

If you are not familiar with this business model, here’s how it works.

  1. You find someone that has a business complementary to yours and has (preferably) a big list
  2. They email their list promoting a freebie that you offer such as a free report or free webinar
  3. You then sell your product to your newly acquired prospects
  4. You pay your partner a commission for each person that he/she sent you that bought your product

Of course this is just a high level overview, but that should be enough information for you to get the gist of it. So the question is, do you have to disclosure the fact that you are a partner (or a affiliate) in the email you send to your list?

Most bloggers know about the FTC guidelines regarding material disclosure. The guidelines were first drafted in 2009 and designed to curb wide spread abuses, particularly in the weight loss industry. Many of the endorsements and testimonials raving about the product were actually paid for, which was not all clear to the reader (or viewer). The FTC wanted any financial transaction disclosed, so that the potential customer could make a more educated decision on whether to buy the product.

So all of us added a “material disclosure” disclaimer to our blogs (you can see mine to the right) to disclose our affiliate links. Since then the guidelines have tightened up and expanded over the last five years. For example, the latest 2013 guidance is that the user should not have to hunt or scroll to find the disclaimer. So a disclaimer on the sidebar is probably not enough.

You can see this in action in many of the mommy blogs, each post just simply begins with “this post contains affiliate links” (even if it doesn’t).

So far we’ve talked about the affiliate side, but vendors have to be aware of the FTC rules as well. If you display a testimonial on your site for a product and you have paid for it, you must disclose that fact (and not in tiny or hidden print either).

If you are interested in getting into selling online, you’ll need software to handle the tracking so you’ll know what to pay your affiliates and/or partners. Many of the shopping carts have affiliate functionality but I like WordPress Affiliate Platform, since it’s designed for WordPress and is an affordable one time cost. And yes, gosh darn it, that is indeed an affiliate link.

So what about email?

While it’s fairly clear how to handle affiliate links in your web content, for email it is less clear. I spent some time browsing through the FTC documentation (see links below), and I could not find any specific email examples. However email is just another channel for online marketing, just like social media and blog posts (which they did cover) and there was enough vague language (“internet communications” – it is a government agency after all) that could include email.

Have you ever seen an affiliate disclosure in an email you received touting a product? I’m struggling to remember even one example.

I looked through various promotional emails I’ve received over the last week, and none of them had a disclosure. And I’m on some well known marketer’s lists, several which I respect for their integrity. In fact what I have seen more often is a statement like: “I’m recommending this product just because it’s awesome, I’m not getting paid for it”. I think that the practice of recommending other people’s products is just so common and expected that most people just don’t disclose.

However there are marketers that DO require disclosure, so my advice is consult your lawyer if you have a concern, especially if you have a large following and a reputation to protect.

And keep in mind that the FTC could always update it’s guidelines in the future to specifically cover email.

Do you think that a financial relationship (JV or affiliate) should be disclosed in an email blast? I would love to get your perspective, enter a comment below.

FTC Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking

Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (PDF)

Good examples for social media and blog post disclosures: BloggyLaw.com — Best Practices: Blogger Disclosure Examples and Tips

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a traffic and conversion expert specializing in SEO, Copywriting and Facebook Ad Campaigns. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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