FTC Endorsement Guidelines 2019 [Infographic]

UPDATED November 14, 2019 — The FTC’s endorsement guidelines for sponsored content rests on a simple assumption: consumers are likely to react differently to recommendations that come from trusted friends (or social media stars) than from people who receive compensation to endorse a product. To that end, the FTC wants to create more transparency in sponsored content by placing more onus on brands and influencers to openly divulge the relationship between companies and the influencers recommending their products or services.

The Updated FTC Endorsement Guidelines: What Brands & Influencers Need To Know About Proper Endorsement Disclosures In 2019

The FTC has offered more guidance in the past on what constitutes proper disclosure—the agency even published a simple Q&A to address marketers’ basic concerns—but the ever-changing nature of social media makes establishing a set of clear-cut rules nearly impossible. Now, the FTC came up with a new format that targets influencers specifically: Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers. In addition, the FTC published three videos that outline how influencers should disclose their connection to a brand.

The creator-friendly guidelines serve to inform influencers when and how to properly disclose endorsements to avoid deceptive advertising tactics along with some other helpful reminders. While the FTC endorsement guidelines have always aimed to convey transparency to digital consumers, influencers have either been unaware of best practices, found ways to conceal ads, or ignored the guidelines altogether.

The new 2019 FTC endorsement guidelines shift focus onto influencers and their responsibility to understand disclosure guidelines when partnering with brands, underscoring three key components of proper endorsement practices:

  1. Disclosure should occur when there’s a financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.
  2. Disclosure placement should be hard to miss
  3. Disclosure language should be simple and clear

Based on our experience developing sponsored social media content for global brands, we’ve identified what we believe to be the most important FTC endorsement rules below.

The FTC Endorsement Guidelines For Sponsored Social Media [Infographic]

The following infographic should not be taken as legal advice. Rather, it should be used as a general guideline for making sure that sponsored content meets (to a reasonable degree) the FTC endorsement rules and regulations:

FTC Endorsement Guidelines Sponsorship Social Media Infographic

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A Brief History Of FTC Violations & Endorsement Guidelines

  • 2014 – Sony published misleading Twitter ads and failed to disclose promotion through its ad agency’s employees.
  • 2015 – Machinima neglected to require influencers to disclose the sponsored nature of their Xbox One promotional content.
  • 2016 – High-end fashion retailer Lord & Taylor leveraged the audience reach of 50 top fashion Instagram influencers, but also failed to properly disclose the fact that the entire campaign was sponsored. The same year, the FTC issued a new set of disclosure guidelines.
  • 2017 – The FTC sent letters to over 90 celebs, influencers, and brands who had violated their endorsement guidelines.
  • 2018 – The FTC updated their endorsement guidelines in attempt to hold companies accountable for sponsored post disclosure.
  • 2019 – The FTC updated their guidelines again to specifically target influencers.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FTC DISCLOSURE IN SPONSORED CONTENT

As evidenced by the rich history of FTC violations and subsequent guideline updates, the FTC is attempting to clear the air once more to emphasize the importance of proper sponsorship disclosure.

Influencer marketing has the potential to yield high ROI, however, the relationship between brands and influencers must be disclosed in order to ensure compliance with the governing body (the FTC) that dictates whether sponsored content is acceptable or not.

With the evolution of influencer marketing and growing confusion over the FTC guidelines, incongruities between brands and influencers often emerge. The FTC has responded with efforts to clarify its endorsement and disclosure guidelines, all in the name of protecting consumers.

FTC Endorsement Guidelines By Social Media Platform

FTC guidelines state that proper disclosure must be provided whenever a social media user is provided with financial compensation, free product, or a gift provided in exchange for a post. Proper disclosure must be provided each time a previously sponsored product or service is included in a post. Additionally, content creators must disclose when they have a family relationship with a brand.

Other key elements of proper disclosure include:

  • Required disclosures must be clear and conspicuous. Advertisers should consider its placement in the ad and its proximity to the relevant claim.
  • Preferably design advertisements so that “scrolling” is not necessary in order to find a disclosure.
  • Display disclosures before consumers make a decision to buy, before the CTA.
  • Use plain language and syntax so that consumers understand the disclosures.
  • Hyperlinks leading to disclosure should be consistent in style and placed with the right label.

Because every social media platform is different, the FTC has different endorsement requirements for sponsored content on YouTube, Instagram, blogs, etc. The following are some of the FTC’s recommendations for sponsorships on:

YouTube

  • YouTubers/brands should use words or phrases that are clear and unambiguous, such as “This video is sponsored by…” and include sponsorship information above the “show more” button.
  • Disclosure should be included as a clear and written overlay on the video. Additional verbal disclosure is also recommended. In both verbal and written form, disclosures should appear close to the beginning of the video; for written disclosures, words must remain on the screen long enough to be read and understood.
  • Avoid using ambiguous phrases like “thanks to…”, attempting to hide written disclosures at the bottom of the video description, or failing to include written and verbal disclosure within the video itself.
  • YouTube’s built-in paid promotion tool is not considered sufficient disclosure by the FTC. When using the paid promotion tool, include additional proper disclosure.

Instagram

  • Use hashtags #sponsored, #ad, #paid to indicate sponsorship, but avoid using ambiguous hashtag disclosures like #sp, #spon, #collab, or #ambassador. When using ambiguous disclosures, include additional proper disclosure.
  • Place the disclosure before the “more” button and at the beginning of the content description, if possible. Don’t disclose sponsorship in the comments or attempt to bury disclosure among other hashtags.
  • Instagram’s built-in paid partnership tag is not considered sufficient disclosure by the FTC. When using the paid partnership tag, include additional proper disclosure.
  • For Instagram Stories, disclosure should be superimposed on the image.

Snapchat

  • Sponsored Snaps or Snapchat Stories must have #ad, #sponsored, or #paid written or superimposed directly on sponsored content. If an entire Snapchat Story is sponsored, the disclosure should appear on the first Snap of the Story.
  • Disclosure should also be made verbally if sponsored Snapchat content is a video.
  • Avoid using #sp, #spon, #collab, #ambassador or any other ambiguous hashtags that do not clearly communicate the sponsorship or fail to verbally disclose sponsorship if sponsored content is a video.
  • Sponsored Snaps or Snapchat Stories must have #ad, #sponsored, or #paid written directly on sponsored content. If an entire Snapchat Story is sponsored, the disclosure should appear on the first or second Snap of the Story.

Blogs

  • For endorsements that appear in blogs, disclosure should be written in clear, unambiguous phrases like “This post is sponsored by…” and in a legible font.
  • Disclosures should occur at the beginning of the blog post and should not require the user to scroll to see the sponsorship information.
  • Disclosing on the homepage does not replace the need to disclose on individual sponsored blog posts.

Facebook

  • Disclose sponsorship at the beginning of the post description using #sponsored, #ad, or #paid (if disclosing sponsorship with hashtags) and by tagging the brand whenever possible.
  • If sponsored content is a video, disclose sponsorship as a clear and written overlay on the video. Additional verbal disclosure is also recommended.
  • Avoid using phrases or hashtags that are unclear or ambiguous, such as #sp, #spon, #collab, #ambassador, “Thanks to…” or “Video made possible by…”. Accompany ambiguous disclosures with additional proper disclosure.

Livestreaming

  • Disclose sponsorship verbally at the beginning of the video and include disclosure in the video description in clear, unambiguous language.
  • For lengthy sponsored livestreams, disclose periodically throughout the livestream .
  • If using hashtags, disclose with #ad, #sponsored, or #paid.
  • Do not use ambiguous words or phrases such as #sp, #spon, #collaboration, “Thanks to…” or “Video made possible by…”.

Twitter

  • Sponsored tweets must include #ad or #paid, preferably near the beginning of the tweet. The sponsoring brand may also be tagged when applicable.
  • Ambiguous or unclear hashtags—#spon, #sp, #collaboration—should be avoided, and must be accompanied by additional proper disclosure hashtags if used.

FTC Endorsement Guidelines By Communication Type

While knowing platform-specific FTC endorsement guidelines can be helpful, the FTC is more concerned about the types of disclosure and less with how each disclosure appears on any given social media platform. Here are the FTC’s recommendations for:

Hashtags

  • Social influencers/brands should use #sponsored, #ad, #paid, #[Brand]Ambassador or any hashtag that clearly and unambiguously conveys sponsorship. Avoid using #spon, #sp, #partner, #ambassador, #collab, #collaboration or any other hashtag that doesn’t clearly convey nature of sponsored content.
  • Use #[Brand]Sweepstakes in hashtags for contests and sweepstakes.
  • Place disclosure hashtags at the beginning of a social description or blog post. Do not place hashtags at the end of the description, require users to click “more” to see the disclosure, include disclosure in the comments section only, or hide disclosure among many other hashtags.

Verbal

  • Say “This post is sponsored by…” or other phrases that clearly conveys sponsorship. Verbally disclosures must come as close to the beginning of videos, podcasts, or other sponsored content as possible.
  • Avoid using ambiguous verbiage such as “Thanks to…” or other phrases that do not clearly denote the relationship between brand and social influencer. Also, avoid verbally disclosing the sponsorship at the end of videos, podcast, and other sponsored content.

Written

  • Written disclosures must employ clear wording, such as “This post is sponsored by…”. Written disclosures must also be visible, appear in a different color than the background color, occur at the top/beginning of sponsored social media content, and remain on the screen long enough to be read and understood (for written disclosures in videos).
  • Disclosures should not appear as written phrases that are unclear, such as “Thanks to…” or “Made possible by…”.

Language

  • Acceptable language to meet FTC endorsement guidelines include:
    • “Sponsored by…”
    • “Paid for by…”
    • “This product was given to me by…”
  • Language that does not meet FTC endorsement guidelines includes:
    • “In partnership with…”
    • “Thanks to…”
    • “In collaboration with…”
    • “This brand rocks!”

Whether a brand or influencer, it is your responsibility to know the FTC endorsement guidelines and to comply with them when creating sponsored content. Working with a reputable influencer marketing agency will ensure your influencer campaigns comply with FTC rules. Want to work with us on your next campaign? Learn more here.