Over the last several years, social media influencers have become a viable channel for marketers of all types to bring their products to market in ways that were previously unattainable. The FTC has also observed this explosion of opportunity and has shot a few arrows over the bow in regards to native advertising disclosure, even calling out major brands like Warner Bros.
The aftermath of those FTC call-outs has only affected the brand, not the influencer or content creator—which sent the signal that it’s the brand’s responsibility to ensure disclosure. However, if you take a look at the FTC native advertising guidelines, they are quite clear: “The FTC has taken action against other parties who helped create deceptive advertising content—for example, ad agencies and operators of affiliate advertising networks. Everyone who participates directly or indirectly in creating or presenting native ads should make sure that ads don’t mislead consumers about their commercial nature.”
This has completely changed things. Now we know that the burden of responsibility rests on both content creators/influencers and the brands that initiate the promotion.
Then, recently, the FTC slapped 45 celebrity influencers with warning letters. The agency, of course, didn’t forget to include these influencer’s agents or their brands. It’s safe to say this is a reality that’s staying. These items have always been best practices, but if you haven’t been taking it seriously, it’s a great time to start. Disclosure and transparency benefit us all.
Brands should not hold back from an opportunity to showcase their products or experiences in real life scenarios. And influencers should not shy away from working with brands, it’s a badge of honor. It’s a compliment to established communities when a brand values their time and energy. If you’re ashamed of working with a specific brand or influencer, you should probably re-evaluate your partnerships.
No matter what side of this fence you’re on, if you find yourself asking questions about how to get around these FTC guidelines, you’re on the wrong track. The rules the FTC have set are very clear: you must make it clear to the average consumer/audience participant that there is a material relationship beyond you just finding the product on your own. Influencers often worry about ‘selling out’ their community, but if someone is generating income from native advertising and isn’t disclosing these relationships, the argument could be made that you’re selling them out regardless (Sorry Kim Kardashian 🤷).
For native advertising to flourish with influencer’s help, establishing trust and following the FTC guidelines is necessary. Losing trust means that we have no one else to blame but ourselves for the collapse of native social advertising—not the FTC and not the consumer.
That being said, here are the basic guidelines:
When do brands or influencers need to disclose relationships?
Every time a brand initiates any promotional transaction with you. Whether it’s giving free product for reviews or paying you for Instagram posts, it must be made completely clear that this is an advertisement or promotion.
Who does this apply to?
Anyone that interacts on a brand/influencer level in regards to native social advertising.
Is this important? Why should I care about this?
Extremely important, you should care because the Federal Trade Commission says it’s important. And it’s all fun and games until you get slapped with an FTC fine 😵.
How can you disclose as a brand or an influencer?
Leave zero doubt as to the intent and origin of the post. Leave no question that it is an advertisement or promotion and who the ad is for.
When we follow the guidelines, everyone wins. Consumer trust is perhaps the most important tool in the arsenal of any marketer, as well as the major component in the relationship a viewer has with a content creator or influencer. When we work together to create transparency, consumers will reward us with their time (and yes, money).