Celebrity endorsements have been a marketing tool since the mid-1700s. A well-known person recommends shoppers buy the product because it’s good. The company hopes the celebrity’s shine reflects well on their product in the market’s eye. You’ve been seeing it all your life, but the rules have been updated for the current digital age and how we advertise.
A traditional celebrity endorsement, say on television, is obvious; the influencer has been paid for his or her appearance. Sports advertising is a good example. Think of Michael Jordan’s relationship with Nike or Charlize Theron’s with Dior. The relationship is explicit.
Direct response marketers who pursue social media influencers for their clients have to make their overtures clear. The FTC has established a set of guidelines that marketers are required to follow to keep in line with the agency’s longstanding support for truth in advertising. If an influencer is connected with the company doing the advertising or has a hand in the content created or shared, that relationship has to be disclosed.
In its “The Complete Guide to Influencer Marketing 2018,” Hootsuite cites the example of social media influencer Daniella Monet. On her Instagram account she poses with and promotes 1850 Coffee. Placing an #ad hashtag at the beginning of the post to communicate her relationship with the coffee brand reportedly didn’t hamper her from gaining 28,000 likes in the first 12 hours after the image posted.
You’ve seen disclosures and disclaimers all your life. “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” A disclosure doesn’t have to be a disclaimer in legalese. It can be as simple as a reviewer saying, “I was given this product to use by the company…” The disclosure can’t be made in a blanket form, either. If an influencer has multiple disclosable relationships on their site they can’t have one statement to cover all of them. And since the average person only reads the first three lines of an Instagram post, the FTC would like your disclaimer within that space.
The disclosure can be a chyron on the bottom of the screen. It has to be easy to see in size and stand out against the color of the background it’s on. It has to be onscreen long enough to be noticed and read. In an audio setting, the disclosure has to be in clear and easy language. On mobile platforms, the disclosure cannot be part of a hashtag, which are too ambiguous.
Being within the FTC guidelines has a secondary benefit. The consumer who is tuned in to social media influencers values authenticity. If something is perceived as fake, their opinion can turn negative very quickly. Even if the endorser is paid, being up front about the relationship is not necessarily a deal breaker. Taking an honest stance toward marketing is really the best course of action.
The FTC has authority to perform investigations and create deceptive advertising cases. While the guidelines aren’t law themselves, they outline how law enforcement may proceed in violations of the FTC Act.
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