Tag Archive for: ftc

Updated FTC Guidance on Influencer Marketing Disclosure

Updated July 13, 2023

 

The FTC’s job is to preserve consumer trust. When the FTC adds clarity to its regulations, the purpose is usually to make the guidelines more clear, and therefore easier to follow.

This is an important announcement if you use influencer marketing or consumer reviews.

The updated FTC guidance covers:

1) articulating a new principle regarding procuring, suppressing, boosting, organizing, publishing, upvoting, down voting, or editing consumer reviews so as to distort what consumers think of a product; 2) addressing incentivized reviews, reviews by employees and fake negative reviews of a competitor; 3) adding a definition of “clear and conspicuous” and saying that a platform’s built-in disclosure tool might not be an adequate disclosure; 4) changing the definition of “endorsements” to clarify the extent to which it includes fake reviews, virtual influencers, and tags in social media; 5) better explaining the potential liability of advertisers, endorsers, and intermediaries; and 6) highlighting that child-directed advertising is of special concern.

 

 

You can read about the announcement here:

FTC updated guidance on deceptive reviews 

 

May 9, 2017:

Because of continuing conversations with colleagues, brands, and influencers, I wanted to put some guidelines together for based on the FTC’s native advertising guidelines or influencer disclosure.

The FTC has shot some arrows over the bow in the last several years regarding native advertising disclosure, including calling out Warner Bros. and Lord and Taylor.

In both cases, the brand was held liable, not the influencers or content creators, strongly signaling that it’s the brand’s responsibility to ensure disclosure. But, the FTC native advertising guidelines make it 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.”

Basically, no one is off the hook.

As if by magic, the FTC slapped 45 celebrity influencers with warning letters but didn’t forget to include their agents and the brands – in total 90 letters were issued about the FTC native advertising guidelines. It’s safe to say this isn’t going away. It’s always been best practice, but if you didn’t take it seriously before, it’s time to do so now.

My view is this: disclosure and transparency are good for all.

A brand should have no shame about showcasing its products and experiences in a real life scenario. Influencers shouldn’t have shame either, because working with a brand is a badge of honor. It’s a real compliment to a community that a brand values their eyeballs. If you’re ashamed of working with a particular brand or influencer, perhaps you’re working with the wrong partner.

Often times when I have conversations about disclosure with brands and influencers, I get questions like “what if…we do….”

Whether you are a brand or an influencer, if you’re asking questions about how to get around these guidelines, you’re on the wrong track. The guidelines make it very clear: make it obvious to an uneducated viewer that there is a material relationship (basically, anything which might effect the outcome of the endorsement). Influencers are often concerned about “selling out” their community. As an influencer, if you’re making a living from your community with native advertising and you’re not disclosing those relationships, you’re REALLY selling them out.

The Edelman Trust Barometer makes it clear: trust is in crisis. 

Establishing trust and adhering to guidelines is necessary for native advertising and influencer relations to continue. If trust is eroded the FTC guidelines won’t be at fault for the collapse of social native advertising.

So here are the guidelines based on reading hundreds of pages including all of the FTC links provided below.


When do social media influencers need to disclose a relationship with a brand?

Always.

Does this apply to me?

Yes.

Why does it matter?

The FTC says it does.
Consumer trust is important to all of us. 

How do I disclose?

Make it “clear and conspicuous” and leave no doubt.


If you want to read through the FTC’s own words on this:

FTC Native Advertising Guideline Resources

.com Disclosures (2013)

Native Advertising: A Guide For Business

FTC Endorsement Guidelines: What People Are Asking (2015)

The Lord & Taylor Disclosure Case-FTC Blog (2015)

The Warner Bros Disclosure Case-FTC Blog (2015)

Enforcement Policy Statement On Deceptively Formatted Ads (2015)

 

Successful Influencer Campaigns Aren’t Unicorns

PR has a number of tools in its tool belt, one of them is successful influencer campaigns & partnerships.

In consumer goods, influencer marketing is establishing a significant place in the mix. When we see some of these campaigns, a little part of our PR soul dies. Frankly, some of them are brand-damaging and unlikely to have an influence on sales. When working with influencers, you’re already taking a risk that there’s a past or future PR fiasco that could affect your brand reputation.  Influencer marketing should be considered paid media and owned media and just like you wouldn’t put out an ad or other content that damages your brand, nor should you execute an influencer campaign without consideration. Some people seem to think so long as you’re getting your product in someone’s IG story that’s all that matters, we disagree.

We believe all consumer goods PR should be executed with strategy and thought. While influencer campaigns aren’t exactly the same as ads, we take insight from advertising research to inform our recommendations.

On average, it takes 21 brand exposures to bring someone to the purchase phase.
5-9 brand exposures to create brand awareness
more than 10 exposures during the consideration phase

While influencer campaigns are a paid opportunity (influencer rate range from product exchange to $1 million per post), there are public relations and brand opportunities and implications as well. While you might not be able to spend $1,500 per post, you should seriously balance the PR and brand implications.

Working with an influencer is NOT the same as placing an ad, so we also wanted to share our best practices for a  influencer campaign.

Get Crystal Clear on Your KPIs BEFORE Reaching Out to Influencers

If your consumer goods influencer campaign objective is SEO value as opposed to brand awareness, those are actually very different campaigns. They are both relevant.  Who you work with will be different. The number of influencers you work with will be different. How you CHOOSE the influencers might be different.  But even if you’re doing an influencer campaign for SEO value, we beg you to consider the brand implications.

For many CPG brands, their brand may be their most valuable asset, so treating the brand with long-term implications in mind is essential to the longevity or value of the brand. From a brand building and cannabis PR perspective, for MOST brands, our perspective is to go deep, rather than wide with cannabis social media influencers.  The biggest reason this is our typical approach is because of the importance of repeated exposure. This is PARTICULARLY important to emerging CPG brands whose other marketing initiatives are constrained.

Influencer Campaign Success #1:  Choose Your  Influencer Partners Carefully

No matter what strategy you apply to your influencer campaign, align with influencers who align with your brand. If you’re a wellness brand, maybe partnering with an influencer whose feed is about their last party isn’t natural synergy, the influencer’s audience may not receive your product well.

Why is a wellness driven product doing an influencer campaign with influencers aligned with party culture? Why not align with a nurse, a yogi, and a marathon runner? It’s jarring for customers to see inconsistent messages and creates brand confusion. Getting brand awareness is hard enough to do when you act with brand clarity, why make it harder on yourself?

Instead of looking at followers, look at engagement & reply rates. But dig a little deeper on those engagement rates, they should be consistent with typical engagement. If your influencer has 10,000 followers and 3,000 likes and 1,500 comments, that’s a red flag and suggests automation. On the other hand, if your influencer has 700 posts and 35 million followers, that’s disjointed as well. For context, as of this writing Kylie Jenner has 42M U.S. followers (164M globally), of which 1.2M are evaluated as authentic U.S. engagers, according to HypeAuditor. Is it POSSIBLE that they reached 35 million followers over 700 posts? Yes, but there must have been a viral trigger, so look to see what that could be.

Take a careful look at the other brands the influencer has worked with and see how they align with you. Have they worked with your competitors? Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

Since this is likely a paid relationship, you should also be evaluating their overall professionalism. How thoughtful and eye-catching is the content, how professional is their response to your inquiry?

Ruthlessly review their past content for any red flags that could cause your brand problems, and also consider ways to mutually separate in case of a brand clash in the future.

If you follow the other steps below, this stage is incredibly important.

Build a Relationship with the Influencer Before Your Influencer Campaign

Note I keep referring to social media influencers as partners. Treat them as such, treat them as humans. Social media influencers will have an emotional response to how they are treated and no matter how professional they are, how you treat them impacts the outcome. That’s because the POWER of influencers is in the PERSONAL.

Why undermine the most valuable part of the partnership? Why not turn that influencer into an actual advocate?

By inspiring your cannabis influencer, you can bet they’ll have an easier time inspiring their followers and creating content that’s consistent for both brands. Meet with the influencer if you can, engage with them as they’re experiencing the product for the first time.

Explain your favorite aspects of the product/brand and discuss your brand values and vision, so the influencer can align their value systems and genuinely connect with the brand.

This more personal relationship approach is something 90% of influencer campaigns lack, and it shows.

Another reason to build a relationship with a brand influencer is to review how you’ll mutually handle it if the account is shut down during the campaign or afterward.

Allow The Influencer Creative Freedom & Voice

Effective  influencers have their own style of content and voice, you’re likely attracted to that style and voice – let then keep it. Influencers are master content creators, they see the world through a lens that sparks enthusiasm by their followers. A great influencer will happily develop content ideas that meet your objectives, while also reinforcing both brands. This content will put a fresh spin on your brand.

Collaboration magic happens when two brands align in such a way that it seems absolutely natural. Collaborating WITH the  influencer on content as opposed to directing or scripting the content enables to you leverage the influencer’s own brand while also enhancing yours.

Know FTC Guidelines

Make sure to review FTC guidelines on disclosure. This is especially important because it’s almost always the brand who the FTC investigates. The brand has more skin in the game, so the brand needs to be the enforcer. And of course, if you’re a cannabis brand with a cannabis PR goal, understand the moving target that is social media for cannabis influencers.

There’s no business like the cannabis business, we’re all in it together and despite (or maybe because of) the challenges, we love it. One of the areas with “challenges” is cannabis social media. 

Every cannabis brand knows that social media is an integral part of branding – and done right, it can play a pivotal role in press opportunities as well.  Yet, it can be a little disheartening to be on social media when just about every platform has become “pay to play.” But, never fear, there are solutions to the cannabis social media challenge. 

There are so many social media opportunities, I hope you’ll take a look at this and think about these issues within cannabis social media and how you can lead the industry with your social media. 

Good Cannabis Social Media: Product First, Second AND Third?

One of the issues I currently have with cannabis social media is that it’s so product forward, there’s so much opportunity to tell stories on social, and yet stream after stream is a picture of a plant or a bottle or a vape. OF course, it’s important to put your product out there, but who (besides a bot) stops to comment on a picture like that? The opportunity in cannabis social media is to create a passionate audience–very few people get really excited about product images. Think about the last visual ad you saw, I bet you remember the story in the ad better than the product hero shot. 

So what should we do about product/story balance? 

Consider including product within a mix of posts. Either find a way to tie together a series of posts that together, tell a story.  Your stories can be vignettes, values, people, anything that underscores your brand values and attributes. Within the context of these brand values, your goal is to make people pause long enough to look again, maybe even long enough to look at the rest of your feed. Now, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t post product at all, I want you to post the product, especially in ways that highlight your customer’s experience. I WANT you to have products shots, but

 

 

Use the rule of thumb: product images for every 3rd or 4th image. 

 

Disruption: The Good, The Bad and The Amazing

First, I’d like to encourage all brands to consider the nascent stages we’re in and consider that it’s on all of us, as a community to improve our image. If you’re going to take risks on social (and not every brand is a “risk taking” brand), then be very clear about how other people perceive the message you’re putting out there. For example, if you’re marketing to women, be aware, women aren’t generally all that jazzed about hypersexualized images. But hey! If you’ve done the research and your cannabis brand is about disruption, and you’re using images like this strategically, I’m a huge fan of bold moves. But go into that kind of brand risk-taking with open eyes. You might just end up on the pages of a publication with an outraged journalist writing a missive about their disgust. And even if THAT doesn’t happen, you may forever alienate the people you thought would be interested in your product. Strong brands sometimes do alienate people, but that’s usually because they know their audience SO well, they know their audience will stand by them. Knowing your audience that well means you’ve done your research.

Maximize your payoff

On the other hand, recently I’ve seen some cannabis brands take a strong stand on controversial social justice issues. It’s a gutsy move, but when it’s consistent with the brand, it’s previous community building and presented well, it has the potential for huge pay-off. I’m personally really excited when I see brands taking a strong stand on issues, even when they aren’t MY issues, I’m excited to see brands stand for something. If you’re going to take a risk like this, lean into it, own it. Make sure the language and the imagery support the position in a strong, powerful way, and when you do this, leave out the product placement. Let your leadership shine, let the connectivity happen. Strong positions are much more memorable when they don’t feel like an advertisement. 



Disruption can be very good for a cannabis brand. The key for every brand to is to know their brand SO well, their audience SO intimately, the return outweighs the risk. 

Rethinking Social Media Influencers

When I Googled “cannabis influencers” today I got 4,530,000 hits, so clearly, it’s a thing. Most social media influencers know their value, and social media influencers are advertisements. Treat them as such. I’m not suggesting the relationship isn’t collaborative, because it is. What I’m telling you is keep your brand strong, You’d never let someone create a print ad for you without reviewing it. Insist on that same communication with your influencer.

But since you’re collaborating with your influencer anyway, why not invite their creative input for what the post(s) will look like. I’ve found that content creators are incredibly creative and they’re so excited when someone wants to hear THIER ideas, the collaborative outcome is much better than originally imagined.

The “thing” I wish cannabis brands realize is that you can pay big bucks per post for social reach and usually get really beautiful, custom content in return. Or you can do it for a less expensive per-post price and get a higher percentage of reach with a little grittier content. In either case, you’ll be managing the influencer, and the bigger the influencer, the bigger the personality, but also, the more professional. Really be thinking about what you expect from your cannabis influencer campaign and how you’ll evaluate success. 

 

 

Dig deep and make sure your influencer really matches your brand. Reach should not be your only consideration when you’re selecting your influencers – think holistically and you’ll get holistic results in return. 

 

One last word of advice about social media influencers: no cannabis brand has been publicly fined for lack of disclosure, YET. Don’t be the first. Brush up on the FTC’s disclosure rules about social media influencers and don’t assume you’re flying beneath the radar, because cannabis is never REALLY under the radar.

 

 

Click here to add your own text