The FTC wants clear and conspicuous but the industry wants clever and discreet in an attempt to foil the reader. But if the content is useful then people don’t care if #ad is prominently displayed. It’s all about quality content that is real and adds value. Consumers don’t care if the gorgeous photo of a cake made with Dr. Pepper comes from the brand or from the influencer who has indicated that it is an #ad. They just know they are salivating to make that cake they just saw.
Influencer marketing is currently the Wild, Wild West with everyone getting into the mix, but many of the newer players have little infrastructure in place or deep knowledge for meeting the FTC’s guidelines. And as more and more brands get involved in this form of marketing, it will only bring more focus from the FTC. You have influencer marketing companies with infrastructure in place to manage scale and accountability from their influencer communities to publishers and mom and pop shops trying to corner their share of the influencer market.
And after speaking with several attorneys they all voiced concern over the lack of blogger/influencer compliance.
Two examples of watch outs:
Twitter parties are run by influencers and without legal counsel.
Many brands look to hire influencers directly that frequently don’t have legal council. On numerous occasions I’ve been asked for clarification on things like “Does every tweet have to have #ad, #sweeps or #client in the tweet?” The answer is yes, if you are a host or co-host and being paid for the party.
And influencers often use only the brand’s hashtag only in content, which is not in compliance for sponsored content. #Ad, #client, #sponsored must be included in the text.
Influencers often place disclosures at the end of the post or not at all. Disclosures should be clear and conspicuous and therefore at the beginning of the post. It’s misleading to have a reader begin absorbing the content without disclosing early on that it’s sponsored content. The FTC allows for originality and personality in the disclosures, as long it’s clear they were paid or received product in exchange for the review or content. Brands should ask to see examples of influencer content in their selection process and check for FTC compliance. Brands should also ask for the influencer or influencer company’s guardrails for ensuring compliance particularly when doing influencer programs at scale.
Tread carefully with visual content.
The latest guidelines state, “If the native ad’s focal point is an image or graphic, a disclosure might need to appear directly on the focal point itself. Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest are more visual channels so caution should be taken to be clear. If a consumer clicks on the image only to find out the image is advertising then a disclosure should be included. And a word of caution: be sure to be clear on content viewed on mobile where the visual field may be limited.
The latest FTC guidelines are meant to eliminate deception. Today’s consumers are savvy and can smell something that smacks of deception or isn’t authentic. Deceptive advertising in the age of user-generated content where people trust their peers authority and recommendations over a brands is a clear indication that brands need to tread carefully with honesty and transparency. Consumers are looking for useful content so even if it comes in the form of sponsored content they will gladly consume it. Today great content is the ad.
The new updated disclosure rules and the FAQ section of the FTC’s website clearly states the FTC is currently not going after bloggers, they will be targeting the brands and companies that hire. Obviously if you choose to go the celebrity influencer route make sure you brief them to disclose as they will be scrutinized as evidenced by the Kim Kardashian suit.
Clearly this should be one of the many questions any marketer should ask when looking to hire an influencer marketing company: “How do you ensure your influencers are FTC compliant.”