FTC: Endorsements

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Every time a product is mentioned on my blog I have to state if I received it for free or paid for it myself.

False. Merely mentioning a product or brand on your blog, or any outlet, does not create an issue. If you paid for a product or experience out of your pocket, then there is no relationship to disclose. If you received a free product in passing, with no agreement to market or endorse the product on behalf of the brand, then you still do not require a disclosure.

The FTC is only concerned with endorsements made on behalf of a brand in quest for garnering more consumers. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the FTC Act if a blogger or other content creator – i.e. someone essentially working for a brand – pays you or gives you product or an experience of value to mention in a review, article, other published content. If you receive anything free – products or other perks – with the expectation that you will promote or discuss the products in your content, you’re required to disclose the relationship according to the FTC Act. Additionally, bloggers and other content creators who are part of network marketing programs, such as H21 Connect, where they sign up to receive in-kind/free product samples in exchange for writing about them also are expected to adhere to the disclosure.

What if all I get from a company is a $1-off coupon, an entry into a contest, or a product which is only worth a few dollars? Do I still need to implement a disclosure?

As a consumer yourself, would you be impacted knowing that someone recommending a product received any type of incentive? If it would, then you should disclose the relationship. For example, submitting your information to a sweepstakes or a contest for an opportunity to win a roundtrip all-inclusive stay at a dream resort in the Caribbean in exchange for a glowing mention on your blog or social media outlets could most likely affect how people view that promotion. When in doubt, it is always safer to disclose a relationship.

The value of what you receive does not affect the FTC disclosure standards. If a blogger or other content creator has a relationship with a brand or network who sends “freebies” in the hope of positive reviews, it’s best to apprise your audience about the free stuff/’gifts’. Even an incentive with no financial value may affect the credibility of your promotion and should be disclosed.

Should I disclose products I receive from a brand if I upload my reviews on YouTube?

Yes. The FTC guides apply to videos in the same way for websites or blogs and other publication outlets.

What if the products I reviewed or discussed need to be returned after I test them?

That depends on the product and how long you are permitted to use it. If you are allowed to use a car for a month while you travel with friends or family, you should certainly consider disclosing that to your readers. However, if you were remitted a luxury espresso machine for a week and then required to return it to the brand or manufacturer according to your agreement – you may be exempt from stating a disclosure. No matter what you decide, it is best to remember when in doubt, disclose.

I have a website that reviews local experiences. It is clear when n experience pays for a specific ad on my website, but must I disclose when my experience is free?

Well, let’s observe the situation from this angle: If you received a free meal at a local restaurant, you should make your readers aware so they can factor that in when they read your review. Some of your readers may conclude that if you received a complimentary meal in exchange or a review or mention, then you might have received exceptional food or service or special treatment.

How many times do I need to disclose my relationship if I mention the product several times throughout my blog posts/articles?

That totally depends on what you have to say about the product. Each new endorsement made about the product, without full disclosure, could be viewed as deceptive because new readers may not have seen your original post with your FTC Disclosure.

I have been recruited as an “ambassador” to promote a brand and their pr/marketing efforts via social media and several online outlets. I am being hired for this role and compensated. I disclose my relationship with the brand in my blogs and in the social media promotions, but sometimes I get receive questions about the brand in my off time. If I respond via Social Media when I’m not officially “working”, am I required to make a disclosure? Can I simply place a badge for the brand relationship in my Social Media Outlet profile?

Here you have a financial connection to the company who hired you to perform a service. That relationship exists just as though you were formally working for their corporate headquarters- it exists whether or not you are being paid for a particular tweet or post. If you are endorsing the brand in any social media post, your audience has a right to know about your relationship. That being said, some of your responses to questions or concerns about the brand might not be endorsements, because they aren’t communicating your opinions about the brand (for example, if someone just asks you for a link to the brand), in that case there is no need to constantly tag #ad or #sponsored in your reply.

Also, if you respond to someone’s questions about the brand via email or text, that person probably already knows your affiliation or they wouldn’t be asking you. You probably don’t require a disclosure in that instance, but when you respond via social media, all of your followers (old and new) see your posts and some of them may not have seen your earlier FTC Disclosures.

In regards to posting an affiliation badge, the FTC does not consider a general or ‘blanket’ disclosure on a profile page to suffice. The FTC assumes that many people in your audience most likely won’t see it. Also, depending upon what it says, the badge may not adequately inform potential consumers of your connection to the trade association or brand. If it’s simply a logo or hashtag for the brand, it won’t describe your relationship at all.

I use Social Media to share photos of products I use, am I required to say something positive for my posts to be considered endorsements and covered by the FTC Act?

You don’t always have to use words to convey a positive message. If your audience or reader think what you communicate about a product reflects your opinions or beliefs about said product, and you have a relationship with the company marketing the product, it’s an endorsement subject to the FTC Act. So yes, simply sharing a picture of a product on social media, such as on Pinterest, or a video of you using it could convey that you like and approve of the product. If it does, it’s an endorsement and it is always best to be safe and disclose.

Of course, if you don’t have any relationship with the brand, then your posts simply are not subject to the FTC Act, no matter what you show or say about the product. The FTC Act covers only endorsements made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser.

 

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