A Word to Influencers: Avoid These Disclosure Mistakes
By now everyone has heard about the hot water the Kardashian clan jumped into regarding failure to disclose posts to their social accounts as paid ads. In fact, the consumer watchdog site Turth in Advertising.org has compiled a list of more than 100 instagram posts it says “violate FTC (Federal Trade Commission) endorsement guidelines, because they fail to communicate that they are paid ads.” That’s a little excessive, even by Kardashian standards.
The FTC guidelines on disclosure are pretty clear.
Required disclosures must be clear and conspicuous.
- Prominently display disclosures so they are noticeable to consumers, and evaluate the size, color, and graphic treatment of the disclosure in relation to other parts of the webpage.
- Use plain language and syntax so that consumers understand the disclosures.
- Use audio disclosures when making audio claims, and present them in a volume and cadence so that consumers can hear and understand them.
But, no matter how clear the FTC makes it, there are still some that are unclear on the rules.
Here are the biggest disclosure mistakes to avoid.
Whether the Kardashians were asked not to disclose, neglected to disclose, forgot to disclose, their dog ate their disclosure, or they thought they were above FTC guidelines, the fact is they were deceivingconsumers.
OK…OK…It’s not like some of their ads aren’t obvious.
“Wait, that’s not obvious”, you say? Kylie could just be spontaneously confessing her love for detox tea on Instagram.
Well, that could be so, but if you also follow Fit Tea on instagram you would have seen this post, too.
This post sheds some light on the relationship between Fit Tea and Ms Jenner…still no disclosure in her post.
Earlier this month Selena Gomez made the news, when she set a record for 5.5m likes for a single post on her Instagram account. The post, which is of her enjoying a Coke, carries the caption, “When your lyrics are on the bottle.”
Along with millions of fans, the post also caught the attention of Truth in Advertising, who noted in an article an interesting post from Coke’s own Instagram account.
This post encourages consumers to join Ms. Gomez in their #ShareaCoke campaign. It also directs them to Coke’s Snapchat channel, where she is doing a takeover.
Both of these are common paid social media strategies that brands often integrate into ad campaigns.
The problem is the lack of disclosure. There is no language at all in these posts indicating what type of relationship is shared by Selena Gomez and Coke. This could be viewed as an attempt to mislead consumers.
In this case it would have been simple to include #Ad, and it would not have tarnished her image with fans. Heck, she could have started with, “Can you believe coke put my lyrics on the bottle and paid me five figures (assumption) for this post?” and they would have adored her for it. It also would have satisfied FTC guidelines.
It’s not always the complete lack of disclosure that gets people into hot water, sometimes the proof is in the ambiguity. When Warner Bros wanted to create hype around its 2014 release of the video game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, it paid influencers, including the renowned “PewDiePie”, to post video reviews. Below is an excerpt from the FTC Complaint against Warner Bros that outlines the media company’s campaign guidelines to influencers.
- Respondent, through Plaid Social, required that each influencer’s video meet the following requirements
- Video will feature gameplay of the [Shadow of Mordor video game]
- Video will have a strong verbal call-to-action to click the link in the description box for the viewer to go to the [game’s] website to learn more about the [game], to learn how they can register, and to learn how to play the game.
- Video will promote positive sentiment about the [game]
- Video will not show bugs or glitches that may exist.
- Video will not communicate negative sentiment about WBIE, its affiliates or the [game]
- One Facebook post or one Tweet by Influencer in support of Video.
Consequently, these videos are sponsored advertisements, and do not necessarily reflect the independent experiences of the individual YouTube Influencers.
- Respondent also required that the YouTube influencers be instructed to place specified information in the written text or “description box”that typically appears underneath the portion of the web page where a consumer can view a YouTube video. For example:
- Description box will contain information about the [game] above the fold.
- Description box will include FTC disclaimer disclosing that the post is sponsored.
It is a violation of FTC guidelines to pay someone to review a product, and then require that they only post “positive sentiment”. As far as the disclosure that the reviews were paid posts goes, you can see that Warner Bros did require that influencers disclose. However, they asked that the disclosure be placed in the “description box” along with information about the game. The FTC decided that this was an attempt to deceive consumers by making the disclosure ambiguous.
The Heat is on Brands, for Now
In blog #1 of the “A Word to Influencers” series titled “Always Disclose Paid Ads,” I talked about how Federal Trade Commission rulings against Warner Brothers and Lord and Taylor brought by the FTC clearly show that the agency is putting the onus of accountability for non-disclosure squarely on the shoulders of brands.
In fact, an FTC spokesman made it clear to me that, “the Commission has, to date, never brought an action related to social media endorsements or testimonials against an individual – celebrity or otherwise.” The fact that Truth in Advertising.org, and not the FTC, is taking on the Kardashian clan in light of such a huge number of violations speaks to where the FTC feels the blame lies.
But that is sure to change.
It is a good bet that stricter guidelines aimed at curbing the way influencers themselves are held accountable will emerge following the FTC’s roundtable “Putting Disclosures to the Test”, that occurred September 15th.
Don’t Fear Disclosure
The web site Media Post released on article late last month reporting on a study done by the publishing technical platform Polar. The article claims that clear disclosure lowers engagement rates by stating, “The study found the highest click-through rate (0.19%) was achieved by native ads labeled “promoted,” and the second-highest (0.17%) by those labeled “partner” content. “Sponsored” ranked third with a click-through rate of 0.16%, while native content with no disclosure achieved a rate of 0.15%.”
On first read one would conclude that more obscure or ambiguous terms for disclosure lead to higher CTR. But, a closer read of the Polar study itself shows that posts using two disclosure labels performed twice as well as those using only one, 34% to 17%.
The big takeaway from the study is there is no need to fear disclosure. Your friends and family, your fans, will not think any less of you for being paid by top brands to express your affinity for their products or services. Many influencers, even Micro Influencers™, those with 10k or fewer followers, have worked very hard to position themselves to get paid for their views.
Do not follow in the footsteps of rogue celebrity influencers who feel disclosure will tarnish their image.
At Gnack we have been at the forefront of influencer advocacy. Gnack CEO, Chris Gonzalez, says, “In-feed user generated advertisements are some of the least intrusive online ad formats available, and adding disclosure does not negatively impact post performance, or profile perception,” as evidenced by the Polar study.
In fact, your audience will appreciate the fact you told them you were being paid for an Ad because no one likes to be deceived.
So, when it comes to disclosure, say it loud, and say it proud (and say it twice), “#Ad.”
I was rechecking my source for the Selena Gomez letter when I came across this interesting addendum.
Seems as though it was an ad after all. When in doubt, “#Ad”.
For more information on how to disclose. See Blog #3 in this series, or go to Gnackapp.com.