UPDATE: On August 22, watchdog group Truth in Advertising sent a letter to the Kardashian family media moguls telling them that “they had found over 100 Instagram posts that were paid product placements without being marked as advertising. The Kardashians now have a week to take those posts down, or Truth in Advertising will notify the Federal Communications Commission, which in turn could open an official investigation.” via Variety Magazine.
If you’re an Instagram user, you’ve seen people raving about products from “Flat Belly Tea” to dating apps to protein powder.
Recently, there’s been escalating buzz about these endorsements, many of which violate FTC guidelines. But with a growing contingent of businesses utilizing blogs and Intstagram (along with other forms of social media) to cross-promote products and services, the FTC is cracking down. What do users need to know?
In the creative industry especially, Instagram is a platform for creating personal relationships with consumers. YouTube and “Insta-fame” have created a new class of celebrity, spawning cult followings of users like Kayla Itsines, thefatjewish, grav3yardgirl, and just about every former contestant on “The Bachelor.” Regional clothing manufacturers and local “must-have” food stops have jumped on board, using the platforms as a way to cut through the fodder on Twitter and Facebook.
In promoting their own goods and services, account holders are usually fine to post away. It’s when users begin promoting others that the waters become murky.
The FTC Endorsement Guidelines are a way to keep consumers safe from misleading promotions—even if the poster doesn’t realize they may be misleading!
In plain terms, the FTC says that “If your audience thinks that what you say or otherwise communicate about a product reflects your opinions or beliefs about the product, and you have a relationship with the company marketing the product, it’s an endorsement.” See the FTC’s Endorsement Guide.
This translates not only to “pay per post,” (which is a thing, apparently, according to all of the “get paid to post on Instagram!” bots that tag me) but to any sorts of products received for free or a significant discount in exchange for your “review.” Maybe you’re a beauty vlogger who receives free samples of makeup for use in your tutorials; maybe you run an Instagram fitspo account and you show a photo of your newest athletic gear, sent to you for free. Maybe you received two $50 gift cards to from a company; one for yourself and one to give away! You’re receiving something valuable in exchange for writing about, talking about, or even just showing a photo of a product. Therefore, you fall under the FTC’s guidelines.
So what’s a blogger to do?
Make sure you are upfront in disclosing any products that were sent to you for free or that are paying you to post. Many users use tags like “#sp”, “#sponsored,” or “#ad” to indicate that the post is promotional. However, it is unclear if these are enough to indicate the nature of the relationship between you and the product. While the requirements “clear and conspicuous” aren’t the most helpful to law-abiding posters, the FTC has made several bright line statements about what won’t cover posters under the guidelines:
To be safe, posters should clearly state in every post that they received the product free or are being paid to post. This means in your postings state what product, who you got it from, and how you’re being compensated, e.g. paid to post, free products, deep discounts, etc.
Now go post away!
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