After reviewing Instagram posts by celebrities, athletes and other influencers, the Federal Trade Commission has sent out 90 letters to various influencers and marketers reminding them to clearly disclose their relationships to brands when promoting products on social media.
This is the first time the FTC has ever reached out directly to “educate” social media influencers, the commission said, but did not disclose the names of the influencers. The letters were informed by petitions filed by Public Citizen and affiliated organizations regarding influencer advertising on Instagram and Instagram posts reviewed by FTC staff.
The move comes as the FTC is taking a harder look at how media companies are working with influencers amid the rise of paid or branded content. In the past, influencers, such as the Kardashian sisters, have been called out for not labeling promoted products. Last summer, nonprofit watchdog group Truth in Advertising called out the Kardashians for failing to disclose on their social media accounts that certain posts were advertisements. Now, many of those posts now include labels such as “#ad.”
A sample of the letter, which can be read here, reminds the influencer that their Instagram post appeared to violate the FTC’s Endorsement Guides. Those guidelines state that if there’s a “material connection” between an endorser and the marketer of a product, that it must be “conspicuously disclosed.” Relationships that need clarification include a business or family relationship, monetary payment or the gift of a free product. (Watch out fashion editors, you could be next).
Such clarification can be accomplished by using “unambiguous language,” allowing consumers to “notice the disclosure easily.” Common problems occur on long Instagram posts where only the first three lines of are seen. Viewers must click the “more” button to see the full text, which usually will include the disclosure at the end of the caption. The FTC now wants influencers to label the ad in the first three lines of a caption.
The letters also noted that when multiple tags, hashtags, or links are used, readers “may just skip over them, especially when they appear at the end of a long post,” which means the disclosure is “not likely to be conspicuous.”
According to the FTC, “some of the letters addressed particular disclosures that are not sufficiently clear, pointing out that many consumers will not understand a disclosure like ‘#sp,’ ‘Thanks [Brand],’ or ‘#partner’ in an Instagram post to mean that the post is sponsored.”
The FTC sent the 90 influencers and marketers its guides, which the agency hopes will serve as a tool. Still there is no set way to label paid posts, which some have argued is part of a larger problem.