Influencer marketing works well in terms of celebrity social media partnerships. In fact the Federal Trade Commission is wary of these posts fitting in a little too seamlessly. There are enormous benefits to influencer marketing as we all know. But like blogs there is some regulatory framework to wade through. Several companies and dozens of influencers have come under fire in the past few months for deceptive influencer advertising. Learn what you should and shouldn’t do to keep your own brand out of hot water.
A Guide to FTC influencer marketing rules and regulations
Not all product reviews require disclosure. And that’s because not all product reviews are endorsements. If your campaign doesn’t involve a transfer of funds or something of value from the company to the influencer or their audience it is not a paid advertisement. From the company’s side this is the ideal scenario. But accomplishing it in reality is tough especially with anyone above the level of micro-influencer. One case where a disclosure is often unnecessary is if it is broadly understood that someone is a spokesperson for a brand. Stephen Curry has a shoe deal with Under Armour. If he posts about the company his followers can be reasonably expected to know about his relationship to UA. It’s likely no disclosure is necessary. Now, here’s a random Stephen Curry video to make this post more interesting.
Okay, now back to important but boring stuff. Keep in mind however there’s no objective threshold for the definition of broad awareness so it’s smart to err on the safe side.
Anything you get or give away for free qualifies as a sponsored partnership. Free has a different definition here. Anything influencers are paid to use, items that they are given for free or giveaways that influencers are paid to distribute need disclosure. It doesn’t have to be the influencer who ultimately benefits either. If anyone ends up taking home some free merchandise via sweepstakes or giveaway the influencer has to disclose the sponsor of the contest.
Sponsored posts have to be easily recognizable: A large part of the FTC’s crackdown on Instagram influencer marketing boiled down to something they called deceptive marketing. All that was required of an influencer before this change to demonstrate sponsored content was to post a #ad, #sp, or a similar hashtag anywhere within the post. The meaning of a vague two-letter hashtag buried in a post – possibly among a string of other hashtags – is not entire obvious. The FTC decided to crack down on ads that deliberately muddy the paid nature of the post by trying to hide the sponsorship. To avoid fines or worse, bad PR, try the following:
Acknowledge the sponsor at the beginning of a video
Just note that “Brand X gave me product Y to try” as part of the text.
You’re responsible for what your influencers post. Pleading ignorance won’t get you anywhere with the FTC. It’s your burden as a business to make sure that your influencers comply with FTC influencer marketing rules and regulations, because a failure to do so will land you in as much trouble as the influencer. Your influencers may not be particularly experienced with the practice of posting sponsored content. You should present them with a clear guide of what they’re supposed to convey in a post. Educate your influencers on what they have to do so that they aren’t dragged into legal trouble which could mean a crisis for your brand. And check in periodically to make sure every post is following FTC influencer marketing rules. Keep in mind that microinfluencers in particular may be new to the game and need a some education.
Influencers have to actually try a product before endorsing it.
Don’t pay someone to spout a canned – or even false – statement about the usefulness of a product.
If an influencer hasn’t actually experienced a product, they are not allowed to make any public statement regarding it. Likewise, if an influencer ends up disliking your product you cannot continue with the partnership as if they enjoyed the product. This kind of deceitful behavior intentionally misleads consumers and is decisively illegal.
There’s still a long way to go until everyone follows the rules. The FTC has a lot on its plate. Noncompliance is still rampant. A recent Consumer Media study reported over 90% of sponsored posts of celebrities are not disclosed. That means there is some big money to be made on fines. The FTC will get involved when they notice a pattern of misleading content or a particularly egregious case of a concealed sponsorship.
But it doesn’t matter how hard or easy it is to get caught. An FTC infraction is bad for your brand. Put in your best effort to stay within FTC influencer marketing rules and regulations. It could keep you out of big trouble.