Many travel agents are looking for a way to promote brands or products they love while also making some extra income. Affiliate marketing is a popular way to do this. Even if you aren’t sure you fully understand this concept, you’ve likely encountered an affiliate marketer or even used an affiliate link. Affiliate marketing involves an individual who agrees to promote a product or service and drive sales for a company in exchange for some type of reward whenever someone uses their link to make a purchase.
Affiliate marketing may sound like a simple way to get free products or easy money, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. As a travel agent, you are in a fiduciary role with your clients. This means you have a legal responsibility to work in their best interests. This duty of care applies to your decision to engage in affiliate relationships because any sponsored content you promote or affiliate program you participate in could potentially affect your clients.
Before you decide to jump into the affiliate marketing game, there are legal requirements to know about.
The Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees civil anti-trust law and consumer protection. In plain language, it protects consumers from deceptive and unethical business practices. The FTC requires businesses to provide advertising disclosures in certain circumstances, one of which is engaging in affiliate marketing. Any advertising, such as product endorsement, must be truthful and evidence-based.
The FTC takes advertising disclosures seriously and requires affiliate marketers to provide disclosure information clearly and conspicuously. Your clients must be able to easily see, hear, and understand the disclaimer or disclosure. Being aware of your affiliate relationship and the fact that you receive payment for advertisements will allow them to make informed decisions.
Selling Goods Via Affiliate Links
You can add an affiliate link to your blog post, social media posts, or other online marketing content, but you must follow FTC guidelines. This applies whenever you receive any type of compensation from the company for your affiliate marketing.
So, what does the FTC consider compensation? It’s more than just direct commissions and includes:
– Store credit
– Free products or services
– Special access
– Any type of favor
If any of these apply to you and your affiliate relationships, you must disclose to your clients or site visitors that you receive compensation for promoting the product or service.
When to Disclose
Disclosure needs to be done every time you promote a product, and it must be done as close to the paid endorsement as possible. If you post on social media promoting the product, you should include the disclosure with the post. YouTube videos should include a disclaimer within the video and in the description. A blog post needs to include some form of an affiliate disclosure statement that is easy to notice. The affiliate disclaimer should accompany the endorsement rather than be included on a separate page.
How to Disclose
A major aspect of the FTC guidelines regarding affiliate disclosures is that they must be clear and conspicuous, not hidden or obscured in any way. How is this factor measured? With the reasonable consumer rule. If a reasonable consumer would not deem your disclosure clear and conspicuous, then it needs to be improved. Yes, this test is subjective, but it is the one the FTC will use when deciding if your disclosures meet their guidelines.
The substantial or significant minority measure could also be used. Would a significant minority of site visitors miss your disclosure? Then it doesn’t qualify as clear and conspicuous.
In the spirit of clear and direct language, it’s also a good idea to provide a detailed description of the nature of your affiliate relationship, given the FTC requirement for transparency. How are you compensated, and when? Let your website visitors know.
Not everyone understands how affiliate marketing works, so it’s your responsibility to ensure they know this involves paid endorsements for promoting the product or service. Your disclosure doesn’t have to be fancy or written in legalese; in fact, the simpler, the better. Saying something like, “If you click on this link and buy something, I get money,” will likely work perfectly fine.
Additional FTC Guidelines
Clarity is not always easily determined, though. An affiliate link, disclosure statement, and legal disclaimer all need to be evaluated based on multiple factors, and the FTC provides the framework for how to do that.
– The best place for affiliate disclosures is on the same screen as the endorsement or claim
– If one word or phrase is the triggering claim, include the affiliate link there
– Place the disclosure statement at the top of blog posts instead of the bottom
– If scrolling to an affiliate link is unavoidable, include additional language or cues
There are some additional key points to consider, including always making the font of the affiliate disclosure the same size or larger than the rest of the content. Also, use contrasting colors and graphics to draw attention and avoid distracting elements that will detract from the disclosure.
Affiliate Programs as a Travel Agent
Aside from the FTC disclosure requirements, your fiduciary role should also dictate some ground rules for any affiliate program you participate in. Travel agents should engage in ethical business practices. In the context of affiliate marketing, that means only promoting products or services that you can truly vouch for, and that will provide value to your website visitors.
You have numerous options for affiliate programs, including the Amazon affiliates program and many other smaller companies that rely on affiliate marketers to provide product endorsements. Ensure you abide by any legal requirement for your sponsored content and include a full disclosure statement that abides by the FTC guidelines.
If you have questions about how to obtain an affiliate disclosure, Travel Industry Solutions is here to help. Our membership page offers sign-up options so you can gain access to our legal documents, marketing tools, and business growth resources.