If you’re employed by a newspaper or TV station to give reviews – whether online or offline – your audience probably understands that your job is to provide your personal opinion on behalf of the newspaper or television station. In that situation, it’s clear that you did not buy the product yourself – whether it’s a book or a car or a movie ticket. On a personal blog, a social networking page, or in similar media, the reader might not realize that the reviewer has a relationship with the company whose products are being recommended. Disclosure of that relationship helps readers decide how much weight to give the review. The Guides are intended to give insight into what the FTC thinks about various marketing activities involving endorsements and how Section 5 might apply to those activities.
The Guides themselves don’t have the force of law. However, practices inconsistent with the Guides may result in law enforcement actions alleging violations of the FTC Act. Law enforcement actions can result in orders requiring the defendants in the case to give up money they received from their violations and to abide by various requirements in the future. Despite inaccurate news reports, there are no “fines” for violations of the FTC Act. You’ve raised two issues here. First, it may be relevant to readers that people endorsing your restaurant on social media are related to you.
Therefore, they should disclose that personal relationship. Second, if you are giving free meals to anyone and seeking their endorsement, then their reviews in social media would be viewed as advertising subject to FTC jurisdiction. But even if you don’t specifically ask for their endorsement, there may be an expectation that attendees will spread the word about the restaurant. Therefore, if someone who eats for free at your invitation posts about your restaurant, readers of the post would probably want to know that the meal was on the house. If the host endorses the product – even if she is just playing the game and saying something like “wow, this is awesome” – it’s more than a product placement.
If the payment for the endorsement isn’t expected by the audience and it would affect the weight the audience gives the endorsement, it should be disclosed. It doesn’t matter that the host isn’t an expert or the segment is humorous as long as the endorsement has credibility that would be affected by knowing about the payment. However, if what the host says is obviously an advertisement – think of an old time television show where the host goes to a different set, holds up a cup of coffee, says “Wake up with ABC Coffee. It’s how I start my day!” and takes a sip – a disclosure probably isn’t necessary. Not necessarily. Just because a platform offers a feature like that is no guarantee it’s an effective way for influencers to disclose their material connection to a brand.
It still depends on an evaluation of whether the tool clearly and conspicuously discloses the relevant connection. One factor the FTC will look to is placement. The disclosure should catch users’ attention and be placed where they aren’t likely to miss it. A key consideration is how users view the screen when using a particular platform. For example, on a photo platform, users paging through their streams will likely look at the eye catching images.
Therefore, a disclosure placed above a photo may not attract their attention. Similarly, a disclosure in the lower corner of a video could be too easy for users to overlook. Second, the disclosure should use a simple to read font with a contrasting background that makes it stand out. Third, the disclosure should be a worded in a way that’s understandable to the ordinary reader. Ambiguous phrases are likely to be confusing. For example, simply flagging that a post contains paid content might not be sufficient if the post mentions multiple brands and not all of the mentions were paid.
The big picture point is that the ultimate responsibility for clearly disclosing a material connection rests with the influencer and the brand – not the platform. You can superimpose a disclosure on Snapchat or Instagram Stories just as you can superimpose any other words over the images on those platforms. The disclosure should be easy to notice and read in the time that your followers have to look at the image. In determining whether your disclosure passes muster, factors you should consider include how much time you give your followers to look at the image, how much competing text there is to read, how large the disclosure is, and how well it contrasts against the image. You might want to have a solid background behind the disclosure.
Keep in mind that if your post includes video and you include an audio disclosure, many users of those platforms watch videos without sound. So they won’t hear an audio only disclosure. Obviously, other general disclosure guidance would also apply. A disclosure that is made in both audio and video is more likely to be noticed by consumers. Disclosures should not be hidden or buried in footnotes, in blocks of text people are not likely to read, or in hyperlinks.
If disclosures are hard to find, tough to understand, fleeting, or buried in unrelated details, or if other elements in the ad or message obscure or distract from the disclosures, they don’t meet the “clear and conspicuous” standard. With respect to online disclosures, FTC staff has issued a guidance document, “. com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising,” which is available on ftc. gov. Yes. Knowing that reviewers got the product they reviewed for free would probably affect the weight your customers give to the reviews, even if you didn’t intend for that to happen.
And even assuming the reviewers in your program are unbiased, your customers have the right to know which reviewers were given products for free. It’s also possible that the reviewers may wonder whether your company would stop sending them products if they wrote several negative reviews – despite your assurances that you only want their honest opinions – and that could affect their reviews. Also, reviewers given free products might give the products higher ratings on a scale like the number of stars than reviewers who bought the products. If that’s the case, consumers may be misled if they just look at inflated average ratings rather than reading individual reviews with disclosures. Therefore, if you give free products to reviewers you should disclose next to any average or other summary rating that it includes reviewers who were given free products. However, if you’ve given these customers a reason to expect a benefit from providing their thoughts about your product, you should disclose that fact in your ads.
For example, if customers are told in advance that their comments might be used in advertising, they might expect to receive a payment for a positive review, and that could influence what they say, even if you tell them that you want their honest opinion. In fact, even if you tell your customers that you aren’t going to pay them but that they might be featured in your advertising, that opportunity might be seen as having a value, so the fact that they knew this when they gave the review should be disclosed e. g. , “Customers were told in advance they might be featured in an ad. ”.
It’s not a good idea. Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions or experiences of the endorser, and your plan could cause people to make up positive reviews even if they’ve never done business with you. However, it’s okay to invite people to post reviews of your business after they’ve actually used your products or services. If you’re offering them something of value in return for these reviews, tell them in advance that they should disclose what they received from you. You should also inform potential reviewers that the discount will be conditioned upon their making the disclosure.
That way, other consumers can decide how much stock to put in those reviews. My company wants to get positive reviews. We are thinking about distributing product discounts through various services that encourage reviews. Some services require individuals who want discount codes to provide information allowing sellers to read their other reviews before deciding which reviewers to provide with discount codes. Other services send out offers of a limited number of discount codes and then follow up by email to see whether the recipients have reviewed their products.
Still others send offers of discount codes to those who previously posted reviews in exchange for discounted products. All of these services say that reviews are not required. Does it matter which service I choose?I would prefer that recipients of my discount codes not have to disclose that they received discounts. The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.
gov or call toll free, 1 877 FTC HELP 1 877 382 4357; TTY: 1 866 653 4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at consumer. ftc. gov/media to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.
S. and abroad.