Better Business by Dale Dixon: BBB can only ask businesses to do ethical advertising

Dale Dixon, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Southwest Idaho and eastern OregonApril 23, 2013 

Dale Dixon

Josh Jordan, owner of Superior Appliance Service and Superior Heating, visited Better Business Bureau's office recently. BBB had sent him a letter after being made aware of numerous online ads that listed the names of well-known appliance and HVAC companies but hyperlinked to Superior's website.

BBB believes such advertising practices lack transparency and are not truthful representations. We respectfully asked Jordan to change his practices and stop listing competitors' names while hyperlinking to his own website.

During his visit to BBB's office, Jordan made it clear he had no intention of changing his approach to advertising. He said he wasn't doing anything illegal, and he was following the lead of online advertisers in other industries.

You might be asking yourself the same question a different business owner asked me several weeks ago: "What right does Better Business Bureau have telling me how to advertise?"

The answer is that BBB is a private nonprofit, started by a group of business people in 1912 to self-regulate in the arena of advertising.

While we've evolved to keep pace with the marketplace, we remain true to our mission of advancing marketplace trust by encouraging and supporting best practices. We believe it to be much better for businesses to adhere to a set of ethical standards than be reduced to walking a legal fine line.

Sure, Jordan is well within his legal right to buy advertising through Google, with text that shows the names of his competitors and hyperlinks to his website.

Jordan told the BBB that the consumer will figure out what's going on when he or she arrives at Superior's website.

But does his action lead to a more trustworthy marketplace? Better Business Bureau and its more than 2,500 accredited businesses in Idaho believe there's a better way to advertise. We believe companies operating through self-regulation, held to a set of standards including honesty in advertising and transparency in business practices, will be successful at attracting and keeping customers.

No, BBB doesn't walk around with a regulatory hammer, forcing compliance with the standards. All we can do is ask. If the business doesn't comply, well, we end up in this position. We turn it into an education opportunity for people who might find themselves online, considering clicking a hyperlink.

Responsibility goes both ways. If you're online and about ready to click a link in an advertisement, take a moment to look at the landscape. If you hover your mouse over the link, the actual Web address should be visible in your browser. Is the preview Web address where you really want to go? Does it seem to match the Web destination being advertised? Once you arrive at the site, does it fulfill the expectations created when viewing the original ad?

Bottom line: Advertising can be a powerful communication tool when used with honesty and transparency. If you're a business owner, we respectfully ask you to follow the standards. If you're a customer, proceed with eyes wide open.



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