Disclosure Guidelines Influencer Marketing Influencer Marketing Best Practices

Influencer Marketing Disclosure Guidelines in the USA: What You Need To Know

Understanding the importance of disclosure, authenticity and transparency in influencer marketing

We’ve discussed the importance of disclosure, authenticity and transparency in influencer marketing previously on the blog and detailed the disclosure guidelines that are now in effect in Australia, so today, I wanted to share the guidelines that impact brands and influencers in the USA.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the government agency that is responsible for overseeing ads and advertising practices to ensure that the long-standing principles of consumer protection are being upheld in the digital space. The FTC “prohibits deception and unfair practices” in all forms of native advertising, and particularly in influencer marketing which has become a new method of delivering digital advertising where advertising, marketing and promotional messages are integrated into and presented as non-commercial content.

What Does It Mean?

The most important part of the FTC guidelines is that consumers need to be able to differentiate content that is considered advertising and has been facilitated in some way by a brand. This the very essence of influencer marketing, so it is important to prevent deception with a disclosure statement that is “in clear and unambiguous language.” The disclosure statement must also be communicated at the beginning of the post, or “above the fold”, where possible, and should be in a font and colour that is easy to read and stands out against the background.

Here are a few things to note when it comes to including disclosure statements in content. Disclosure should be:

  • As close as possible to the native ads which the disclosure relates to
  • In a clear and prominent place on all devices the content can be consumed on
  • Considered from the perspective of a reasonable consumer
  • Appear on or near the ad’s focal point or headline
  • On each individual piece of content
  • Delivered to the consumer before they receive the advertising message
  • Understandable and in plain language
  • In the same language as the rest of the content
  • Void of technical or industry jargon, unfamiliar icons and abbreviations and terminology that is ambiguous and can be interpreted multiple ways

In saying that, the FTC guidelines can be considered quite vague, with no “one size fits all approach” to disclosure across platforms and content formats. In fact, the FTC says: "Advertisers have flexibility as to how to identify native ads as ads, so long as consumers notice and process the disclosures and comprehend what they mean.”

That doesn’t mean the FTC is not serious about monitoring disclosure guidelines. Just recently, the FTC cracked down hard on influencers and brands not adhering to the FTC disclosure guidelines and sent over 90 letters to influencers reminding them about the disclosure guidelines they should be considering when working with a brand in some capacity. The FTC directly contacted social media influencers to educate them on the guidelines and warn them of the repercussions if they continue to ignore disclosure best practices on posts making endorsements or referencing brands.

So be warned, the FTC is actively monitoring influencer marketing campaigns for indications of deceptive marketing and breaches of the best practice guidelines. If found to be breaching the guidelines, a formal investigation could follow and we don’t doubt that this is something we will see a lot more of in the future.

How Does This Impact You?

For Brands

Marketers, agencies and brands who engage influencers for their campaigns should make it a requirement to include disclosure on all campaign content. It is the responsibility of marketers, agencies and brands to help educate and support influencers and encourage them to abide by the FTC guidelines and indicate the relationship between brand and influencer.

Influencers are not the only ones who will be monitored by the FTC. If an influencer promoting your brand is found to have breached the guidelines there can be consequences for the brand as well as the influencer, and any other parties involved in the process.

For Influencers

Disclosure is becoming a critical part of working with brands to create and distribute content to your audience, so whether you are gifted an item for consideration or offered remuneration in exchange for promotion, you must disclose the nature of the relationship with your audience.

Here are some guidelines from the FTC for a couple of different platforms and content types:

  • Instagram Posts - For Instagram posts in collaboration with a brand, you should include #Sponsored #Promotion or #Ad as well as tag and hashtag the brand in the caption and image. The disclosure tag should be at the start of the post or within the first three lines of the caption where users on mobile devices will see it without hitting the “more” button to expand the content. #Sponsored #Promotion and #Ad are the preferred and recommended hashtags for disclosure as #sp and #Spon are not enough to disclose to audience that aren't used to this language and don't know what the industry terms mean. Disclosure hashtags should not be posted and hidden within a string of hashtags and should be in the caption, not a comment.
  • Blog Posts - A disclosure statement or hashtag at the top of the article, near the heading preferably, is satisfactory to indicate disclosure on blog content.
  • Twitter Posts - #Ad in a Twitter post is an acceptable form of disclosure. Limited space and characters is not an excuse to leave out disclosure on a sponsored Tweet - #Ad is only 3 characters in your tweet, so you must make it work.
  • YouTube and Video Content - A disclosure statement should be in the first line of the description of the video on YouTube (such as “This video was sponsored by…”) and should be included in the video itself in an easy to read format, such as text that remains on the screen long enough to be read and understood or a spoken disclosure statement that is in clear, simple language.
  • Podcasting and Audio Content - Disclosure on audio content should be spoken clearly and simply in a tone that is easy for consumers to follow and in language that they understand. The disclosure statement should be at the start of the content before the marketing message is received, and should be communicated at a sufficient volume for an ordinary consumer to hear and comprehend.  

It is important to ask yourself, does everyone know I had some form of communication and input from the brand to create this content and decide whether consumers can tell the difference between this post, and content that is produced without branded input? If the answer is no or they can’t, then your disclosure statement is not sufficient enough.

It is your responsibility to ensure your audience is aware that you are being compensated in some way to share the content so you don’t mislead your followers.

*It is important to keep in mind that these guidelines are not considered legal advice and are presented as a guide only to ensure you do not breach the FTC disclosure guidelines when working on influencer marketing campaigns as a marketer or influencer.

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