The FTC Endorsement Guides require any affiliate who uses reviews, rankings or testimonials for product promotion to clearly disclose the fact that they receive compensation for doing so. The FTC usually focuses its attention “on advertisers or their ad agencies and public relations firms,” not so much on individual endorsers such as bloggers. The FTC says it does not generally monitor bloggers but, nevertheless, may take action against a blogger who was reported to the FTC but fails “to make required disclosures despite warnings.” So, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
When exactly do you have to disclose?
You have to disclose if you:
– received money or anything of value (discounts, credit, special access, affiliate commissions etc.) to promote a product.
– received the product for free with the expectation that you will review it.
Disclosure is required even if the product is available to consumers for free and even if your review is negative. The rule applies even if you are just posting a photo of a product without commenting on it. Posting a photo implies that you like the product, so it can be seen as endorsement. Tagging (on Facebook, Instagram, etc.) a brand you are wearing is also an endorsement, even if you did not comment on the post/status update. Aspirational endorsements (“I want this gold ring”) also have to be disclosed. It is not enough to write something like “thank you to [the sponsoring company].” But you can write “thank you to [the sponsoring company] for this free .”
If the audience understands the relationship between you and the advertiser, a disclosure isn’t needed. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers.
What do you have to disclose?
The fact that you were somehow compensated. When a disclosure is necessary, you don’t have to disclose full details. In other words, you can simply say “This company paid me to review this product.” But you don’t have to say whether you were paid $50 or $5,000.
How do you have to disclose?
The FTC insists disclosures must be “clear and conspicuous.” That means consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily, without having to scroll, mouse over or click to expand. They should not have to look for it. In general, disclosures should be:
– close to the claims to which they relate;
– in a font that is easy to read;
– in a shade that stands out against the background;
– for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
– for audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand.
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 it’s clear that what’s on your site is a paid advertisement, you don’t have to make additional disclosures. Just remember that what’s clear to you may not be clear to everyone visiting your site, and the FTC evaluates ads from the perspective of reasonable consumers.
The FTC insists that the disclosure must be in the video itself. It is not enough to just put it in the description because a lot of people watch YouTube videos without reading descriptions.
The FTC allows a disclosure in the description of an Instagram post as long as it is visible without having to click to see “more.” So, the disclosure has to be presented in the first four lines of the description. In Instagram Stories, you’d have to superimpose words over the image.
Same as in Instagram Stories, you’d have to superimpose words over the image.
This is a tough one because it only allows 140 characters per tweet. The shortest FTC suggestion is to include “#ad” or start a tweet with the word “Ad:” which only takes 3 characters. The words “Sponsored” and “Promotion” use 9 characters. “Paid ad” is 7 characters.
The FTC position is that it is not enough to describe your links as “affiliate links” because some consumers do not know that it means you are getting paid when somebody buys a product after clicking on the affiliate link. You can use “Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.”
Disclosures should be in the same language the endorsement is in. So, if you are endorsing a product in Spanish in your YouTube video, the disclosure should also be in Spanish.