How To Comply With The FTC's Endorsement Guidelines

Nobody is exempt from the Federal Trade Commission's rules against deceptive marketing practices - not even CGI or robot influencers.

The case of CGI Influencer 'Lil Miquela'

You might have heard about a computer generated social media influencer called Lil Miquela who fooled many into thinking she was a real person. With 1.3 million followers, and a penchant for supporting controversial causes, the CGI influencer has secured several campaigns. But not even Miquela is exempt from following the FTC endorsement guidelines.

In a statement to CNNMoney, an FTC spokesperson noted, “the FTC doesn’t have specific guidance on CGI influencers, but advertisers using CGI influencer posts should ensure that the posts are clearly identifiable as advertising.”

As social media and the digital world around it evolves so too will the FTC but one thing is for sure, there's no going back to a time when bloggers could endorse brands without disclosing that they've been compensated. 

In this article we dive into how to comply with the FTC's rules without compromising the quality of your content.

Who is the FTC?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the U.S. government. It protects consumers from deceptive or fraudulent business practices, and promote fair competition in the marketplace. 

The FTC collects complaints, conducts investigations, sue companies that violate the law, create new regulations, and educates consumers and businesses on their rights and responsibilities.

What are the FTC Endorsement Guidelines?

The endorsement guidelines publicized by the FTC help bloggers, influencers, brands and agencies understand what is required of them when a company pays someone to promote / endorse their product.

When the FTC first introduced regulations for bloggers and influencers, each publication written about a product or company had to feature the hashtags #spon or #ad. The FTC now states influencers can create their own disclosure statement, as long as it clarifies the relationship between the influencer and the brand.

In the words of the FTC:

"The Guides, at their core, reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading. An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make."

You can read the FTC Endorsement Guide in full here.

How should I disclose sponsored content?

The FTC does not have any specific way to disclose an endorsement but throughout the Endorsement Guide they have shown a couple of examples, which we share here:

A disclosure like “Company X gave me [name of product], and I think it’s great” gives your readers the information they need. Or, at the start of a short video, you might say, “The products I’m going to use in this video were given to me by their manufacturers.” That gives the necessary heads-up to your viewers.

Disclosures should be clear and conspicuous

Abbreviating “sponsored post” to “#sp,” or simply saying “Thanks *brand*” is not enough to pass the FTC regulations. Burying a disclosure amongst other content, including mass hashtags on Instagram is also discouraged. 

Disclosures should be
  • in a font that is easy to read
  • in a shade that stands out against the background
  • for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood
  • for audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand
  • Use the same language for the endorsement and the disclosure

Videos need to include the disclosure

Writing a disclosure in the description of a video is not enough because many viewers don’t read it. The disclosure has the most chance of being effective if it is made clearly and prominently in the video itself. That’s not to say that you couldn’t have disclosures in both the video and the description.

If you can't disclose, you can't publish

Advertisers shouldn’t encourage endorsements using features that don’t allow for clear and conspicuous disclosures.

Use Social Media Endorsement Features

Social networks like Facebook and Instagram have made it easier than ever before to disclose paid endorsements. Influencers can publish sponsored content and tag the brand and/or agency compensating them. 

On Instagram it appears above the photo or video just below the username:

On Facebook bloggers and influencers can take advantage of the Branded Content Tool - Facebook's answer to helping users comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s online advertising regulations. The tool allows influencers to publish sponsored content, and attribute it to the brand.

Just remember!

Branded content tools help your audience understand relationship you have with brands. But they are not a replacement for FTC recognized disclosures. 

Use Facebook's branded tool and Instagram's Paid Promotion tag in unison with FTC compliant disclosures.