May 26, 2017.  In an effort to remind influencers of their obligation to clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships with advertisers, the FTC recently sent out over 90 letters to influencers and marketers. It marks the first time that the agency has contacted influencers directly. The FTC did not characterize the letters as warnings, but rather framed the messages as reminders of the obligation of marketers and the influencers they hire to properly disclose their connection.

Spurred on by complaints from watchdog groups such as Public Citizen, the FTC offered guidance to this select group of endorsers on how to effectively make the necessary disclosures of a material connection to a brand. A material connection is something that might affect the credibility of the endorsement such as the influencer’s receipt of payment or free product from an advertiser.

To make a disclosure clear and conspicuous in Instagram posts, the FTC specifically directed that the brand relationship should appear before the “more” button, in the first 3 lines of the post. The FTC noted this is because Instagram posts are primarily being viewed on mobile devices. In addition, where there are multiple tags or links, the FTC warns that disclosures buried in a string of hashtags are not likely to be effective and therefore not “conspicuous.”

A safe way to make the disclosure unambiguous? #Ad at the top of the post. Prior guidance from the FTC also reveals that #Sponsored would likely be sufficient to notify consumers of the nature of the post as an advertisement. In these most recent letters, the FTC notes in particular that “#sp,” “Thanks[BRAND],” and “partner” are inadequate disclosures because readers may not understand these mean a post is sponsored. While there is no one-size-fits-all way to make “clear and conspicuous” disclosures, unfamiliar and obscure abbreviations are certainly not going to do the trick.

Conspicuously branded posts may pose a bit of a challenge to agencies and advertisers who want to keep influencer content authentic and relevant. The goal should always be honest communication with consumers about paid endorsements. #fulldisclosure

The FTC letter can be found here: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/04/ftc-staff-reminds-influencers-brands-clearly-disclose