There was a time when the editorial and advertorial worlds had clear lines of demarcation. It was easy to tell the difference between an investigative report and an ad. However, the days of this “Church and State” arrangement have been disrupted by the sheer weight of online content we now see on a daily basis.
As we’ve moved from a print-dominated to a digital world, new avenues for promotion like native advertising have blurred this once easy-to-read landscape. And with social media and online influencers, this line can be even murkier – in some cases being obfuscated on purpose to fool consumers.
How are we to tell what is organic and what has been paid for? As marketers and advertisers, we have a duty to properly disclose the nature of content we produce and/or promote across our channels.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently updated its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising to help us correctly navigate these waters. Here are the take-home points to keep in mind:
- The FTC reiterated that entries into a contest in return for an endorsement required a clear and conspicuous disclosure that the post was incentivized. According to the FTC, tweeting or “pinning” a sponsor’s photo as part of a contest likely constituted a material connection that required such a disclosure. Including the word “contest” or “sweepstakes” as a hashtag in a post likely would be sufficient, but the word “sweeps” alone would not be sufficient because people might not understand its meaning.
- Marketers and their agencies should pay special attention to how they conduct campaigns on various social media platforms, and ensure that promotion entrants, spokespeople, bloggers and influencers make conspicuous disclosures of their material connections regardless of the platform.
- It is not enough for marketers to tell their bloggers and influencers to make appropriate disclosures; marketers and their agencies need to monitor bloggers and influencers to ensure they are making appropriate disclosures.
- Online reviews will face greater scrutiny by regulators as well as the review sites themselves, and marketers and their agencies should ensure that their endorsers adequately disclose whether any product reviews were in fact incentivized.
Basically, it is our job as professional marketers and advertisers to ensure that the content we help create and promote is easily identifiable as such. Trying to hide the true source of an article, product review, giveaway, etc., can get you into legal trouble, as Deustch LA learned last year.
Using the guidelines above, along with some common sense, will help you steer clear of danger.