Personal endorsements are a powerful thing. Which is why, in October 2009, the FTC stepped in to prevent false or misleading endorsements by issuing clear guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials. The guidelines (available here in their entirety) govern the liability of advertisers and endorsers, including anyone on social media who receives compensation or a product in exchange for coverage.
Even though it’s been almost five years since the guidelines were released, many bloggers and social media influencers still struggle with when and how to disclose their partnerships. To help demystify the guidelines, we’ve put together a quick guide to smart disclosure. On deck for today: part one of our three part series, featuring an overview of the guidelines.
What's an endorsement?
An endorsement is anytime you recommend, review, or encourage your readers and followers to investigate a product, service, company or organization. Endorsements take place everywhere--from the internet to television to real life. For the purpose of this series, we’ll focus mostly on endorsements that take place online or via social media.
We sometimes think the guidelines can be boiled down to three basic principles: be honest, be transparent, be conspicuous.
Be Honest: You never want to misrepresent a product, your experience, or the sponsoring advertiser. Don’t say you’ve tried a product when you haven’t. Or that it cures a disease when it hasn’t been proven to do so. Or even that it’s available in a color that it isn’t.
Be Transparent: Disclose material connections. A “material connection” according to the FTC is “a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement.” A connection includes payment (like receiving money to write a blog post) or product (receiving a free sample of a skincare product). There are also other types of connections that might affect the weight of a review or endorsement--for example, if a sponsor gives a blogger a free trip to experience a hotel or promises to include an Instagrammer in a TV ad if they share a flattering photo of the product, that’s also something that should be disclosed when the photo is posted by the endorser.
Be Conspicuous: The 2014 FTC.com Guidelines Update guidelines advise that endorsement disclosures need to be conspicuous. “Conspicuous” means that the endorser should consider place & proximity when they endorse a product or advertiser. That means you should aim to have the disclosure appear as close to the endorsement as possible.