The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considers as deceptive any ad that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably and that is material (i.e., important) to a consumer ’ s decision to buy the product or service. To avoid charges of deceptive or illegal advertising, hospitality managers should review with their Web site developers the following Internet advertising checklist. If the answer to any of the checklisted items is no, the site content should be revised until the answer yes.
A “ claim ” is a legal advertising term referring to any provable statement contained in an advertisement. It is the responsibility of the advertiser to be able to “ prove ” all claims made. Hospitality managers should ensure that they have the ability and proof required to substantiate all claims made before they are published on the Web site. If there is any doubt about the validity of the claim, it should not be posted on the Web.
Prices, if given, must be stated accurately. If taxes or local assessments will be added, these too must be identified. In addition, any conditions that must be met to get the advertised price must also be disclosed.
It is best to disclose all conditions necessary to enable the buyer to fully understand what is offered for sale. For example, a hotel offering “ free breakfast ” with the price of a room would be well advised to detail whether there are limits to the number of guests per room who are allowed to eat, as well as when the breakfast is offered. In general, the use of the word “ free ” should be avoided when there are, in fact, conditions hat must first be met, unless those conditions are prominently disclosed.
In addition, the words “ sale ” or “ discount ” should be avoided, unless there have been substantial and recent real – life sales made at a higher price.
The development of an Internet site typically involves the use of sight, sound, and text on a Web page. While puffery is allowed, the information that is presented must be carefully reviewed to ensure that it is within acceptable bounds. It is difficult, for example, to claim that a Web ad contains allowable puffery, when a hotel displays the picture of one very nice room, and uses the term “ great rooms, ” when, in fact, other rooms of the same quality do not exist within the hotel.
The Web has spawned some new views toward puffery. In a recent lawsuit against a college textbook retailer that on its site that its store was “ the globe ’ s largest college bookstore, ” the Web site owners claimed that the statement was puffery and thus allowable, The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. disagreed, stating that claims like this might have been puffery in a non – Web context, but online, which is accessible worldwide, and where the Web site owner can appear large or small with few obvious clues to actual size, statements such as this one appear, on their face, to be believable, and thus are no longer puffery.
Some of those standards include:
Placing disclosures near, or on the same screen as, the related claims.
Ensuring that, when using links or hyperlinks to disclosures, the links are obvious and easy to find.
Ensuring that text, graphics, or sound is not used to distract attention from disclosure information.
Ensuring that disclosures are repeated, as needed, on lengthy Web sites.
Are proper symbols, such as the trademark symbol, used where appropriate?
Are trademarks and logos accurate and used only when written, prior approval has been granted? Many Web site developers create a style manual that details the approval procedures to be used before including such marks, logos, or business names on their sites.
The Web abounds with pictures and images that can be easily copied or downloaded. The best rule to follow when creating your own Web site is quite simple: If your organization did not directly create or pay for the creation of the image you wish to use, you should obtain written permission from the owner of that image prior to its use, unless its reproduction and sharing has been authorized by the owner.