The Disclosure Discourse

At its core influencer marketing is a form of advertising. Influencer marketing is the act of sharing a brand message through particular individuals who have built up considerable digital influence through their passion and expertise. These individuals are paid, or sponsored, by brands to promote messages about brands and their products with a certain level of positive sentiment toward the brand and product. It’s not to say that a given influencer wouldn’t naturally feel affinity toward a specific brand/product and post encouraging content, however, through influencer marketing, brands nudge influencers in their favor through payment and specific content guidelines.

Influencer marketing is not a brand new concept. Anyone who has logged into a social media account over the past few years has seen sponsored posts and is acutely aware of their prevalence across all platforms. While influencer marketing has risen to prominence and continues to demand attention from social media users, as well as the media itself, the guidelines surrounding influencer marketing will also attract more attention.

For years influencer marketing was seen as the wild west of online advertising; it was a small and largely ungoverned online niche. Today, however, more brands are shifting their budgets to influencer marketing – 59% of marketers indicated their intention to increase influencer marketing budgets in 2016. Additionally,  more agencies are carving out dedicated teams to manage their clients’ influencer needs. Influencer marketing is undoubtedly growing, and with it, the need for stricter regulation.

Last March, the FTC updated their Endorsement Guide to canvas common questions and issues that arise with sponsored content. With this re-release, there is no question that influencer marketing campaigns are no longer flying under the radar – they are now attracting the watchful eye of the FTC who can, and will, crack down on violations.

Around the same time last year, retailer Lord & Taylor launched an Instagram Influencer campaign. Working with 50 popular fashion and lifestyle influencers to promote the department store’s Design Lab Collection, Lord & Taylor created a social media blitz. Seeding out the exact same dress to all 50 influencers, and asking them to post a shot with the dress and designated hashtag on the same day, Lord & Taylor more than succeeded in creating social media intrigue and conversations around the collection and, as a result,  the dress featured in each influencer’s post, quickly sold out of Lord & Taylor’s stock.

As Lord & Taylor learned the hard way, with great success comes an even greater magnifying glass. Almost as quickly as the dress flew off store shelves, the campaign drew criticism for failing to acknowledge the sponsored nature of each post. The influencers’ posts, which had been approved by Lord & Taylor, failed to disclose that they were sponsored by the department store.

In March 2016, the brand settled the dispute with the FTC and indicated that, although there intention was not to trick consumers, they had learned their lesson. The agreement between the FTC and Lord & Taylor send a clear message to the brand, and all others, that endorsement misrepresentation is not acceptable. In a statement released from the FTC, associate director, Mary Engle stated, “The use of influencers right now is huge for brands. We are just emphasizing through this case, and through other investigations that we’ve had that when companies are paying consumers to help promote their brands, that needs to be made clear to consumers; that advertising should be identifiable as advertising.”

On a simplistic level if you are paid for your content, or if you pay influencers to promote content for you, it must be stated.  Influencers are not required to disclose the exact amount they receive, but they are required to blatantly indicate that payment was involved in the process. In the past, these guidelines were interpreted on a somewhat loose basis, and not every influencer campaign disclosed their relationships with advertisers in an obvious way. In many cases, the nature of the post insinuates that the content is not totally organic. However, the FTC’s guideline revisions, updated in March 2015, send the clear message that any sponsored content, however obvious it may be, must be disclosed as such. On social media, hashtags such as #ad, #spon, and #sponsored are popular ways of efficiently conveying the nature of the post.

If you are planning or managing an influencer campaign, be sure to review the FTC’s enhanced Endorsement Guidelines.






Image Source: AdWeek

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