Celebrities warned again over #ad posts

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The US Federal Trade Commission has written to ninety celebrity ‘Influencers’ warning them not to use their fame and extensive social media followings to promote brands without indicating that it is a paid for or sponsored post – usually via the #ad or #spon hashtags.

Although the FTC did not disclose which celebrities received the warnings it is thought that they include Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham, Vanessa Hudgens and Lindsay Lohan who were all the subject of a complaint lodged by consumer watchdog Public Citizen regarding non-compliance with disclosure rules.

Authorities in the USA and the UK have been clear to stress that the laws requiring paid for messages to be clearly labelled as advertising (whether run in regular media, or social media or someone’s post, blog, or vlog) need to be applied more, and this latest publicity from the FTC is a forceful reminder to both celebrities and the brands and agencies behind them.

The FTC’s letter mainly referred to paid-for Instagram posts, and here are some of its suggestions:

  1. Always disclose when there has been a ‘material connection’ between the brand featured and the celebrity – this applies where there has been a cash payment, or simply free product.
  2. Put the disclosure hashtag at the start of your post – users viewing Instagram posts can only see the first three lines before they need to click ‘more’ so the #ad or #spon hashtag needs to go at the very beginning to make it clear it’s an ad
  3. Don’t mix your disclosure hashtag with other tags – users tend to ignore or skip past multiple hashtags and links so the disclosure hashtag needs to be at the start of the post to keep it distinct and separate
  4. Some disclosure hashtags such as #sp or #partner are not clear enough – the FTC recommends using #ad or where possible #Sponsored or #Paid Ad in case abbreviations are misunderstood

As the FTC recently stated “If someone is posting something that’s either expressly or implicitly an endorsement and they’ve been paid to do that, it should be disclosed whether it’s on Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else.” See link for the full FTC guidance.

Authorities in the UK are also worried about the same matter. IN 2016 the Competition and Markets Authority sent similar warning letters to 43 celebrities telling them that they were in breach of consumer protection law and The Telegraph recently reported that “UK watchdog, the Advertising Standards Agency, confirmed that it has also been cracking down on the phenomenon, working with companies and high profile users to ensure guidelines are met”. In March 2017 the ASA published its own new guidance for online marketing  to help make sure that brands and agencies are in compliance with CAP Code Rule 2.1 that requires marketing communications to be obviously identifiable.

The rules really are that simple but to ensure that your online and social media promotions are compliant and free from risk contact PromoVeritas on +44 203 325 6000 or email info@promoveritas.com.


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