Speaking of disclosures, I am not a lawyer and the content below is not legal advice. This is a recap and interpretation of the information provided by the FTC and can be found here.
It’s over a year since I have broached a legal topic. Last year, I talked about giveaways, and the legality of them and how often times they are illegal. And then we talked about privacy, and how obtaining PII puts you in a situation in remaining compliant with Privacy Laws when it comes to storing and sharing. It’s all very boring, but important, and if you missed those I highly recommend checking it out.
In any case, today I want to talk about FTC guidelines & FTC Disclosures. As always with these discussion posts, there is something that sparks them. As it pertains to this topic, there are several contributions, but the main one is the huge influx of bookish products out there (hey, no judging because I have a store, too!) and those products being sent out for “review” or endorsement, rather, or as a rep.
In reading the comments on another blog post about this topic, and the recent conversation with fellow bloggers, it’s become apparent that individuals either don’t understand FTC endorsement guidelines or just don’t care. But the fact of the matter is, if you receive something for FREE to endorse or review, you must disclose it.
What’s an endorsement? An endorsement is an act of giving one’s public approval or support to someone or something. Source So that means if you say OMG I LOVE X! It’s (amazing, beautiful, blah de blah) You are endorsing the product/item/person, whether you intend to or not.
Do you remember when there were changes to the FTC guidelines, and it was made clear that a general blank disclosure that you receive items for free would not suffice, and each time you mention the product, you have to disclose? This goes for social media. Putting in your bio that you are a rep for a company, or only disclosing once in a post 3 weeks ago, does not cover you when it comes to remaining complaint. Each time you talk about and/or endorse the item/product, you must disclose. In addition, you CANNOT review, or praise a product, without using it first.
Example: FAQ from website:
Several months ago a manufacturer sent me a free product and asked me to write about it in my blog. I tried the product, liked it, and wrote a favorable review. When I posted the review, I disclosed that I got the product for free from the manufacturer. I still use the product. Do I have to disclose that I got the product for free every time I mention it in my blog?
It might depend on what you say about it, but each new endorsement made without a disclosure could be deceptive because readers might not see the original blog post where you said you got the product free from the manufacturer.
When promoting those posts on social media, you should be using a hashtag such as #ad, or #sponsored (if paid), since those cover you under the ACT. You must also say, “I was given X for free,” or “I was provided these items from X for endorsement/review,” or “I’m a rep for X and was provided these items for endorsement,” on any social media that allows for long text (in addition to blog posts), so your readers/followers understand the relationship. Also, said disclosure needs to be in the beginning of your post, not at the end.
Here’s the general rule – if your readers or followers do not understand the scope of your relationship with the “manufacturer” you must disclose it. If you receive a product FOR FREE to review/endorse, you must disclose it. This also includes if you received a coupon to redeem. It boggles my ever-loving MIND that these companies don’t require disclosures*. The companies I work with? It’s clear as day in EVERY SINGLE EMAIL or conversation that I MUST disclose I received the product and use the hashtag #ad on ALL social media, ON EVERY POST, on EVERY platform. If I don’t, I’m banned. THE END.
From another perspective, as a small business owner, it makes me uncomfortable and is THE SOLE REASON I do not send the items I craft out for “reps” or ANYONE for free (unless it was a gift). As a consumer, it’s frustrating because there is no transparency. I hate to question whether or not they’re genuine but to be honest, I don’t believe most of them. THEY NEVER DISCLOSE. #Truestory
One thing I hear a lot is how the FTC doesn’t “police” their policies, which is true. The sheer number of people to monitor is astounding. Another thing I hear is that it’s rare for them to go “after” a blogger/endorser/manufacturer. Which ISN’T true. If there are complaints and reason for them to investigate, they sure as hell will prosecute. Such as it was with this case. Oh, and this → here too. Ther was also a case involving Oreo last year with YouTubers. The FTC has a consumer focus, that means they investigate ALL claims/reports.
*I have emailed three well-known companies, inquiring why they don’t require their “partners” to disclose, and if they have a disclosure policy, and as of today, only one wrote back. I left their typos and their response is a crock of shit. I’m sure the FTC will STRONGLY disagree.
“[…] When co-operating with an individual on a social mediaplatform we, for example, make her or him state a unique discount code, whichcan be used on our website. Such measures shows that there is an existing commercialrelationship between the individual and [name removed]. We are howeveralways looking for new ways to develop our marketing and will take your concerninto consideration.”Are you a rep? Receive products for free? Here's what you need to know about FTC disclosure guidelines. Click To Tweet
- If you receive a product FOR FREE and you are ENDORSING that product, you need to disclose that, and your relationship, with the public. On every post. Example: you work 1:1 with a company and they want you to share 3-5 pics of their product, in addition to sales, and a review, and it was given to you for free, YOU MUST DISCLOSE THAT. Simply saying ” I rep for X” or “I got my package today!” Does not suffice. Or like that company thinks, using that “unique coupon code.” Geez what a crock that is.
- You CANNOT share “your experience” with a product if you haven’t tried it. Example: you can’t say something is durable if you haven’t worn it. Something tastes amazing when you haven’t tried it. Or a candle smells AMAZEBALLs when burning when it’s NEVER been lit.
What you should do
- DISCLOSE DISCLOSE DISCLOSE. If you receive a product to share, review or endorse, on ANY platform, SAY SO. This includes brand reps. It’s a SIMPLE.SENTANCE people. Also, use the hashtag #ad and use #sponsored if you were paid.
- If you’re a business, make sure your people/reps are clearly stating your relationship, and that are receiving the item for free. YOU are liable for this, and it’s your responsibility to make sure your reps are disclosing properly. Seriously. It falls on YOU.
- Report. If you find companies are not requiring their advertisers, reps, and endorsers to disclose, report to the FTC. There are rules in place FOR A REASON.
- Speak Up and ask questions. I have spent hours and hours leading up to DAYS and WEEKS researching this, and can help you if you don’t understand. But again, I am not a lawyer.
- Be honest, do you disclose?
- Were you familiar with the strict FTC guidelines?
- How do you feel about bloggers and endorsers (reps) not disclosing when they receive an item for free on social media posts? What about their blog?
Never miss a discussion!
Tonyalee is an avid reader, gym junkie, coffee addicted workaholic, and blogger. Be sure to follow on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram for random shenanigans.