A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a letter to over 90 social media influencers, whether celebrities or others, warning them about potential violations to their disclosure guidelines. For the first time ever, the FTC decided that influencers, and not just brands, should also bear the responsibility of properly disclosing any material connection to a company. The FTC’s letter kindly reminds social influencers of some very basic principles behind disclosure while making sure influencers know the FTC is watching them and is now fully aware of how social media works.
We at Law on the Runway have written multiple times about social influencer marketing (here and here), so we thought the FTC’s recent actions were the perfect occasion to remind you of some basic guidelines regarding native advertising.
Please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you are concerned about respecting the FTC’s endorsement guidelines, please consult an attorney.
Disclose all material connections This is the basis of all FTC guidelines regarding native advertising, but many seem to be unaware of what this entails. Material connections do not only refer to situations where you have been paid to promote an item. Disclosure is also needed when there is a family connection between you and the marketer, when there’s a business relationship between the two of you and even when you receive products for free, without any compensation.
Do not hide your disclosure As much as it might not look as appealing as a simple Instagram caption, your disclosures have to be fully visible. In its letter, the FTC gives Instagram as an example, claiming that users who view Instagram posts on their phone can only see the first three lines of a long post unless they click on “more,” something most users will probably not do. The same applies to blog posts: there are more chances of a reader seeing your disclosure if it is at the beginning of your post than at the end. As for hashtags, make sure the ones you are using for disclosure purposes are not buried in a myriad of other words. Your goal should not be to hide your disclosures but rather to make them as obvious as possible to the consumer.
Use straight forward terms The FTC has touched upon this in its endorsement guide, but now makes it as clear as ever that the words you use to disclose a material connection need to be extremely clear. For instance, hashtags such as #sp or partner are not straight-forward enough. The correct way to make sure consumers are aware of your connection with a brand would be to use clear terms such as #sponsored #ad or #promotion. Anything that could lead to confusion should be avoided.
Transparency always Ultimately, the FTC is trying to get influencers and brands to be fully transparent with consumers so they can make enlightened choices. Before you post any sort of sponsored content, take the time to ask yourself if there is any way you could make your post more transparent. Consumers should not have to search for disclosures and they especially should not have to wonder whether or not a post is sponsored. If it is not obvious at first sight, you should reconsider your practices.
As with all Law on the Runway posts, please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you have any questions, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org.