I’ve written in detail about the Federal Trade Commission’s updated disclosure guidelines from March 2013, but for every point they clarified, they left 5 questions unanswered.
Fast forward to June 2015: the FTC has updated its “What People are Asking” PDF document to address some common questions and shut down some approaches brands, bloggers and influencers had been using to inform the public about sponsored content.
Essentially, the law hasn’t changed, but the FTC has clarified what does and does not pass muster. We can all expect them to skip the warnings from now on and move straight to enforcement.
Here’s the gist of things, bearing in mind that the law hasn’t actually changed since my original post on disclosure.
1. Disclose any information that’s not obvious to the reader. “The issue is – and always has been – whether the audience understands the reviewer’s relationship to the company whose products are being recommended.”
Basically, if there’s ANY chance the reader or viewer wouldn’t realize that you received something for free, disclose. Hint: there’s almost always a chance, so disclose any free sample, free trip, sponsorship or client relationship, etc.
2. If you don’t get anything free, you don’t have to disclose. If it makes you feel better to emphasize that you paid your own way to that fancy resort, be my guest, but you don’t have to.
The FTC made it clear that “if you write about how much you like something you bought on your own and you’re not being rewarded, you don’t have to worry.”
3. Even if you just get a coupon or other small item or benefit, it’s safer to disclose. The FTC indicated that you should consider whether the $1-0ff coupon or other benefit might impact your opinion or bias your review, but as they point out, you might receive small things all the time from a single brand. If the FTC doesn’t seem sure whether that might require disclosure, how can you know for sure?
For me, the most important sentence in the FTC’s updated response is this: “it’s always safer to disclose that information.” And how. Just mention the coupon. Let readers decide whether something that small might bias your review!
4. If you’re doing a video, disclose at the beginning. (Not everyone watches to the end!) And make sure to include the disclosure in BOTH the video itself and the written description. Don’t rely on either alone.
5. Even if the sponsored relationship has ended, disclose that the company was a client or that you originally received the product for free, etc. As the FTC cautions, “each new endorsement made without a disclosure could be deceptive because readers might not see the original blog post.”
Why chance it?
6. Employees at your company must disclose the employment relationship if they share branded content (or client content) to their own social networks.
Just because you list your employer in your profile doesn’t mean people saw it. Disclose with each post in which you talk about one of your company’s awesome products or your upcoming conference.
7. While we’re on the subject of conferences, disclose like crazy if you’ve been hired as an ambassador to promote one. Anytime you write a post, share a video, tweet, etc., disclose the relationship you have with event organizers. “Sponsored,” “Ad,” “Client,” etc. Something. Get the point across that you’re being paid.
Even if you’re just posting a badge for the event on your site, include a caption that says “sponsored” or something similar. Not everyone will see the disclosure on your blog posts or profile page.
There’s more. Lots more. So be sure to read the FTC’s updated “What People are Asking” PDF. But if 23 pages constitutes tl;dr for you, check out my infographic above.
Let me break it down for y’all:
If you got something, say something. If you got ANYTHING from a brand, say something about the relationship when you post.
Even if it’s lame. Even if it’s just a coupon. Even if you give it back later. DISCLOSE.
Don’t waste time wondering if you need to disclose: just disclose. Seriously, it’s easier, safer, and a better use of your time than trying to save the 3 characters taken up by #Ad.