Celebrities who push products on Instagram without disclosing that they got paid to do so got a friendly letter from the FTC this week.
The Federal Trade Commission asked the “influencers” to more clearly and conspicuously label their posts as paid placements, saying that using hashtags isn’t enough because “readers may just skip over them.”
The FTC would not name names “at this time,” but said it sent the letters because of complaints from consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. In September and November, Public Citizen sent complaints to the FTC about undisclosed paid product endorsements by Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, pop star Rihanna, some Kardashians — they’re everywhere — and more.
Wednesday, the FTC said it sent more than 90 letters to influencers, urging them to check themselves — and the agency’s endorsement guides. The agency said it was the first time “that FTC staff has reached out directly to educate social media influencers themselves.”
In its communications with the FTC, Public Citizen also charged that “companies are preying off of the trust and relatability of smaller-level influencers” who often get free products from companies and don’t disclose that they are paid endorsements.
Other celebrities mentioned in Public Citizen’s complaints include Serena Williams, LeBron James, Jennifer Lopez, Anne Hathaway and Ryan Reynolds.
What are the consequences if the influencers don’t shape up?
According to the FTC’s endorsement guides: “Although there are no fines for 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.”
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said in a statement Wednesday that the FTC’s letters validate the group’s concerns, but that they’re just a first step.
“Instagram has become a Wild West of disguised advertising, targeting young people and especially young women,” Weissman said. “That’s not going to change unless the FTC makes clear that it aims to enforce the core principles of fair advertising law.”
Photo at top: A team member demonstrates Instagram video during a press conference at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on June 20, 2013. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)