What You Need to Know for Endorsing Products/Brands Online
- Who is the FTC?
- Who does this impact?
- What is a product/brand endorsement?
- How do I disclose my “material connection” with a brand online?
- What updates in the law do I need to know about brand endorsements?
You’ve probably seen #ad, #paid, or #brandambassador on your social media in recent years. You may have even wondered why people are doing that now. Well, it’s because the Federal Trade Commission mandates it. Whether you are a celebrity, an influencer, or someone with a smaller number of followers on social media, if you are endorsing products or brands on social media, and you have a “material connection” with that product or brand, you need to know about these recent updates from the FTC.
Recently the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, updated its guidelines for sharing endorsements of products or brands on social media.
Who is the FTC?
- The FTC is the Federal Trade Commission.
- It’s a branch of the government that is very interested in enforcing truth in advertising which includes endorsements on social media.
- If there is a report about your social media activity not complying with its guidelines, the FTC will look into your social media accounts and activities on a case by case basis and determine what actions to take.
Who does this impact?
- Anyone who receives payment, free products, free trips, experiences, or any other kind of benefit in connection with sharing about a particular brand or product on their social media platform.
- This applies to everyone no matter how many followers you have or how famous you are.
If that describes you then you may be wondering if your content endorsing products or brands has been in line with the FTC guidelines.
What is a product/brand endorsement?
The FTC requires “disclosures of all material connections between an endorser and the seller which might materially affect the weight of credibility of the endorsement.” So that might mean a brand pays you to endorse their company or product on your social media. It could also mean that a brand pays for you to take a trip somewhere and you share about the brand or their products on social media. It could also mean that the brand just sends you products. Even if they did not pay you or ask you to promote the product, let’s say you just tried it, loved it, and wanted to share about it, you have to disclose that the brand sent it to you for free.
How do I disclose my “material connection” with a brand online?
Not only do you have to disclose it, you have to be super clear about it. The FTC requires the disclosure be “clear and conspicuous.” This means that “a disclosure is difficult to miss (i.e., easily noticeable) and easily understandable by ordinary consumers.” Basically, the FTC really hates ambiguity so make the disclosure obvious. Don’t bury it after a long list of hashtags in the caption or way at the end of a lengthy caption full of long paragraphs. Put it at the beginning of the caption, with clear language such as #ad, #sponsored, #brandambassador, #paid.
Another thing the FTC hates is abbreviations so make sure you spell it out! According to the FTC #sponsored is a clear disclosure while #spon is not #brandambassador is a clear disclosure while just #ambassador is not. So spell it out!
If you don’t like hashtags, it’s not required that you use one but you need to use clear language such as “I partnered with…” or “this brand sent me these products to try for free…” Make it so clear no one can misunderstand you.
You may already be aware that there is a built-in feature on Instagram for disclosing paid partnerships. Don’t rely on this alone. The FTC has said this is not sufficient so you still need to make the necessary disclosure even if you use this tool on your post.
What updates in the law do I need to know about brand endorsements?
With the rise in popularity of reels and TikTok, one huge change is important to be aware of. If you are sharing your endorsement in video form (TikTok, Instagram reel, Instagram story, YouTube, etc.) just disclosing your material connection with the brand in the caption is NOT enough. You now have to have the disclosure in text superimposed onto the video itself. The text needs to be large, visible, and unambiguous. It needs to be contrasting to the background of the video so that it is visible throughout the whole video. You also need to make multiple mentions out loud during the video about your material connection, not just at the beginning or end of the video.
Even if all you do is post one video or picture of the product, you don’t write a caption, you don’t say anything in the video. Nothing. You still have to disclose your connection with the brand.
Another interesting update to note. If you are associated with one brand or product and you criticize that brand’s competitor on your social media, you need to disclose your relationship with the brand as well.
The takeaway here is, be overly open about these things. Err on the side of caution when deciding when to disclose and how to disclose. Make it so obvious that no one could possibly misunderstand.
Whether you are the influencer who is being sent free products or being paid to promote products or brands on your platform, or you are the brand looking for influencers to promote your products or services, you will need an Influencer Agreement to protect your legal interests. We would love to discuss your needs with you. To get started or learn more about how we can help you, click here to fill out our new client form.
This article summarizes SOME, not all updates but the full list of updates can be found here