Influencer Marketing

In this digital age, a new kind of advertising that feeds on social influence via social media has emerged. Marketers now use bloggers and other social media “celebrities,” effectively called influencers, to advocate and advertise their products. Coined as influencer marketing, companies are using these influencers to increase market awareness amongst target markets.

But are these hired influencers FTC Compliant? At the heart of the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guides lies their truth-in-advertising principle. Truth in advertising is important in all media whether old or new. It is law that influencers must disclose their relationship with the companies or brands they are endorsing clearly and conspicuously. This means that the disclosure should appear at the beginning of the post or, with visual content, sometimes directly on the picture itself. Honesty and transparency by influencers is key, as today’s consumers are savvy and will easily spot deception. They will gladly consume content, even sponsored content, as long as it is useful and truthful.

As long as the influencer is acting on behalf of an advertiser, what they say is usually going to be considered commercial speech, and commercial speech violates the FTC Act if it is deceptive. The FTC does conduct investigations and will bring cases involving deceptive advertising under Section 5 of the FTC Act. 15 U.S.C. §45. While the FTC is not generally monitoring bloggers, concerns may be brought to the attention of the FTC, who will then evaluate them case by case. Their focus will usually be on the advertisers or their ad agencies and public relations firms, though influencers are not exempt from any legal action.

This is not to say that the FTC holds online endorsers to a higher standard than paper-and-ink publications. The issue is that the audience must understand the relationship between the reviewer and the company. On paper, where a reader will generally know it is your job to provide personal opinion on behalf of the brand, personal blogs or social media pages may not provide such a clear understanding of that relationship. This is when a disclosure is necessary and particularly important. To be clear, a blogger only needs a disclosure if they are paid or otherwise reimbursed for their endorsement.

Marketers must be especially careful if they choose to utilize this developing field of influencer marketing. The first and most important question to ask is, “how can I ensure my influencers will be FTC compliant?”

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