The FTC’s endorsement guides cover endorsements made by consumers, experts, and organizations. In its guidelines, the FTC defines an endorsement like this:
“advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness, or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the sponsoring advertiser. The party whose opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience the message appears to reflect will be called the endorser, and may be an individual, group, or institution.”
Compensation is Compensation
It doesn’t matter if you are paying in influencer in cash, trips, gift cards, or even having an influencer participate in an affiliate program. If value is changing hands in any way there is a material connection between the brand and the influencer and it is sponsored and should be disclosed.
Establish Your Best Practices
Brands have a responsibility to be upfront and clear with their influencers about the importance of disclosure. They should understand that any posts they create on behalf of the brand must include disclosure as a condition of payment. Some influencer marketing platforms automate influencer disclosure. A brand can decide on the type of disclosure to use based on their established best practices, such as #ad or “paid for by brand X.” Brands need to make it clear to influencers that disclosure isn’t optional.
Disclosure should be “clear and conspicuous” to comply with FTC guidelines. Nobody should have to hunt for disclosure; it should be obvious that something is paid. That means that the “Ad” disclosure should come first in a social media post and not jumbled in amongst other hashtags. When creating a video, disclosure should be at the beginning of the video rather than the end. Bear in mind that a video may be viewed without audio, in which case a text overlay or prominent disclosure in an attached title or description (above the ‘show more’ button) is recommended.
The “In Partnership With” Tool May Not Comply
Social networks including Instagram and Facebook now offer a brand partnership tool. This tool allows influencers to tag their posts to denote that they created content “in partnership with” a brand. The feature is easy for influencers and brands to use, however it is not always enough for full disclosure, according to the FTC.