How many of you have read through a very lengthy post on someone’s blog or social media… only to find out at the end that it was an AD?
Over the past two years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been cracking down more and more on sponsored blogland’s biggest offenders–not just those who commit the most glaring violations, but also those whose audiences are actually among the biggest: Even celebs have been impacted by the FTC’s most recent actions.
At first, the FTC merely posted some rules. Then within the past month, the organization realized it needed to be more drastic or else consumers will continue getting duped into reading those reeeally long “advertorials” without any warning that they were getting advertised to.
By now you already know what happened: “Cease and Desist”-type letters were sent to those influencers who kept breaking the rules, while the rest of us were left to our own devices to try to figure out how those rules may impact us.
Well, not anymore: I went to none other than the source–the FTC’s website–and compiled exactly what you need to know about those guidelines. Ignorance ≠ bliss.
First up: Some FAQs (Mostly courtesy of the FTC’s site)
Who are the guidelines for?
If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered.
Bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them also are covered.
What’s the purpose of those guidelines?
They reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading.
I heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?
No. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue.
Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers.
What if all I get from a company is a $1-off coupon, an entry in a sweepstakes or a contest, or a product that is only worth a few dollars? Does that still have to be disclosed?
The question you need to ask is whether knowing about that gift or incentive would affect the weight or credibility your readers give to your recommendation. If it could, then it should be disclosed.
What if I’m employed by a company and sometimes like to blog about how good its products are?
Doesn’t matter: You should still disclose that relationship as well just so people are aware that that company also offers that product or service.
What if I just really like a particular product and want to talk about it? Do I have add a certain disclaimer each time?
If you write about how much you like something you bought on your own and you’re not being rewarded, you don’t have to worry.
What should I write/say if I got something from a company to write about?
It’s more important that you simply disclose that you got something and not how you state it. Something like this will suffice:
Company X sent me [name of product] to try, and I think it’s great.
What if I have character limits?
The words “Sponsored” and “Promotion” use only nine characters.
“Paid ad” only uses seven characters.
Starting a tweet with “Ad:” or “#ad”–which takes only three characters–would likely be effective.
The Guides say that disclosures have to be clear and conspicuous. What does that mean?
To make a disclosure “clear and conspicuous,” advertisers should use clear and unambiguous language and make the disclosure STAND OUT.
Consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily. They should not have to look for it. In general, disclosures should be:
- close to the claims to which they relate;
- in a font that is easy to read;
- in a shade that stands out against the background;
- for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
- for audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand.
…Disclosures should not be hidden or buried in footnotes, in blocks of text people are not likely to read, or in hyperlinks. If disclosures are hard to find, tough to understand, fleeting, or buried in unrelated details, or if other elements in the ad or message obscure or distract from the disclosures, they don’t meet the “clear and conspicuous” standard.
[My personal pet peeve: When a network requires a disclaimer be included AS AN IMAGE (that can’t be read). Could you be any more deceitful?]
POP QUIZ: What’s wrong with this post?
Simple: “#ad” is not only at the bottom of the loooong post, but it’s not even the first hashtag used. And did I mention it’s practically buried at the bottom of that post?
Before you come to Sam’s defense, don’t worry: She’s a dear blogger friend and we chatted about her post recently. She revealed to me that the brand AND the network approved that content “and they would have [shared their concerns] if they felt [the hashtag] was inconspicuous.”
But then I explained to her that influencers with over 10,000 or 15,000 followers specifically are being targeted by the FTC and that the “ad”/”sponsored” hashtags MUST be placed before the “More” break. She wasn’t aware of the latter rule and said she’d bring it up to clients in the future.
Annie, summarize this all for me: What’s the top thing to remember from these guidelines and crackdowns?
OK, basically, the FTC is mostly concerned about TRANSPARENCY and treating your readers as you’d like to be treated.
For instance, if you have a longtime relationship with a brand or manufacturer, and they send you a product every so often, but you already disclosed your relationship on the first post you shared about them, your follow-up posts about their products CAN still be deceptive if you don’t disclose your relationship because not all readers will be aware of your first post.
That’s just one of dozens of examples the FTC shared online (link below) so there’s really no excuse: YOU MUST DISCLOSE. When in doubt, disclose. It’s that simple!
For more information and FAQs, make sure you go to https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking.
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Hope this Definitive Guide of FTC Guidelines for Influencers helped and please let me know if you have any questions.