How to Disclose Sponsored Posts?

If sponsorship disclosure confuses you, read this post on how to disclose sponsored posts in The United States.

How to Disclose Sponsored Posts in the United States?

Some guidelines to make sure your posts are Federal Trade Commission approved!

As I mentioned in the post about Canadian guidelines for sponsored posts, the bottom line with regards to disclosure is transparency. If the reader (or viewer of a vlog) is not clear that you were paid, remunerated or otherwise compensated for the post by either the company concerned or any other organization for that matter, you have not made an appropriate disclosure.

At issue is the credibility of influencers who help brands with their products or services in return for payment. If they were remunerated in ANY WAY for the review/post/vlog post or images, this needs to be disclosed so as to avoid any sense that the reader/viewer has been ‘hoodwinked’.

A good example is product reviews: an influencer with a large following is paid (whether in money or product) to ‘review’ said items on their blog. If that blogger doesn’t disclose that they were paid, readers might think that the review was organic and that the blogger does, in fact, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the product! That might ‘influence’ them to go out and buy it too.

Readers can’t guess that the influencer was paid for their positive review—and while some bloggers insist that they are reviewing items honestly, regardless of payment, their credibility is strained; the reader might lend less weight to that opinion when making their buying choices if they knew that there was a link between the influencer and the brand. It’s just basic common sense!

NOT disclosing that material tie to the brand is misleading, at best, and could be costly if a complaint is filed against you, via the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). They are empowered, via section 5 of the FTC Act, to initiate investigations and ultimately cases where deceptive advertising has been used, the consequences of which can include the blogger giving up the money received for those statements/posts/videos/images.

Disclosure for Sponsored Posts in the United States

Here’s a sampling of the FTC’s position on endorsements, in a variety of formats:

  • Basically, the FTC says the following: “If there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.”
    • So does that mean that if a famous tennis player is talking up a certain brand of tennis balls, that this is okay not to disclose because a consumer MIGHT expect that brand and that player to be connected? No. Assuming that a reader will understand the connection is a flawed argument. It’s best to assume that they aren’t aware of a connection and disclosure should be made.
  • The value of the products given isn’t the issue. You could receive product worth only a few dollars and still be considered to have failed to disclose if you don’t mention this with your positive review. The question you always have to ask yourself is: would knowing that you had received the product for free or been paid even a token amount to review it alter how much a person sees your review as credible?
    • Example? Your site reviews local restaurants. Some of those restaurants offer you the meals for free. You need to disclose that as the weight of your review, in the eyes of others, could be affected by this fact.
  • Posting pictures of a product you like, from a company that you work with, even without expressly saying you like the product is still an endorsement that requires disclosure. The existing working relationship with the company in question is what makes this so. If you posted pictures of random products that you like where you had NO connection to the company? This wouldn’t be an endorsement that would require disclosure, as there is nothing to disclose.
  • Disclosure statements don’t need to be complicated! No need to hire an attorney to get it written up. They do, however, need to be ‘clear and conspicuous’. In other words, a clear statement placed in an obvious position that the reader isn’t likely to miss.
  • You need to use a disclosure statement every time you write about a product or service where you were compensated. It’s not good enough to put a general statement on a separate page labelled ‘disclosure’, as this doesn’t meet the definition of ‘clear and conspicuous’. If the reader doesn’t go to that page, they won’t necessarily read the statement.
  • Disclosures should be made in the language that the endorsement is made in. If you are tweeting about a product in Spanish, your disclosure should also be in Spanish, regardless of the fact that English speaking people may be reading it.

A few other points about endorsements, according to the FTC:

  1. You can’t endorse a product you haven’t tried.
  2. You can’t positively endorse a product or service that you actually didn’t like.
  3. You can’t make claims that the advertiser cannot prove.
  4. If you are a company and you solicit endorsements from customers with an incentive, you must disclose if there was a benefit to the customer (payment, being featured in advertising). IF they gave their opinions before an incentive was even mentioned, you don’t need to disclose.
  5. Affiliate links/network marketing must also be ‘clear and conspicuous’ — a reader might not be aware that you receive commissions if they reader clicks on the link and buys if it’s not stated somewhere near the link (ie. NOT on a different page!) Affiliate links are not in and of themselves adequate disclosure because a reader may not understand what it is.

How to Disclose Sponsored Posts in Canada?

The post on Canadian disclosure provides details on how you can go about covering yourself on your blog/vlog or image posts. Take a look and make sure you’re disclosing where you should be! A good rule of thumb is that if you’re not sure whether or not you should disclose a relationship or remuneration, disclose. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Are you confused about the rules about disclosure and blogs/influencers/social media? Here’s how to disclose sponsored posts in Canada

What’s sponsored and what’s not and what are your responsibilities?

Are you based in the US? Read How to Disclosure Sponsorship in the US.

As a blogger, the basic rule of thumb that you need to keep in mind is that you need to be transparent. It comes down to being 100% clear as to your motivation for the words that you’ve written (or video you’ve shot) because it is this motivation that makes the distinction between an advertisement and an organic blog post.

Were you paid to do write the post, make the statement or post the image, whether in product or in dollars and cents? Either way, your readers/followers have the right to know when a review or other post describing a product or service was sponsored or not. It all speaks to your credibility.

The argument has been made by many bloggers that despite the fact that they were paid for their writing or posts, their reviews were honest; that they wouldn’t endorse a product that they didn’t believe in, regardless of whether or not they were paid. And that might be true but the fact that they were paid makes it unclear if their review is truly without bias. This is where the distinction between honest reviews and paid statements becomes blurry.

Ultimately, we don’t live in other people’s heads and we can’t be sure what their motivations are for doing anything, but what is important is to remain transparent to your readers. In the age of social media, where influencers are being paid to talk up brands online, there’s no other way to be. NOT disclosing that material tie to the brand is misleading, at best, and could be costly if a complaint is filed against you.

The Advertising Standards Canada are clarifying the need for disclosure statements on blogs and in social media, so here’s a rundown of what you need to include and when:

A disclosure statement must be ‘clear and conspicuous’.

A statement that is any way hidden and is therefore not necessarily read by the reader is not a proper disclosure. So for example, if you put up an Instagram of a product from a brand that is paying you and in amongst your fifteen hashtags, you bury one that says #ad, that’s not disclosure. The reader could easily miss it.  The Code of Ad Standards clearly states: “No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals the fact that it is an advertisement.”

  • Other ways to ensure that your disclosure is ‘clear and conspicuous’:
    • It is located near the claims that it relates to;
    • It is in an easy to read font, with colors that stand out against the screen wallpaper/background.
    • That it is on screen—for videos—long and large enough to be read and understood;
    • That is read clearly and slowly for audio disclosures (podcasts, for example).
  • What NOT to do?
    • Hide the disclosures at the bottom of the page, in footnotes or behind hyperlinks.
    • Hide the disclosure in a white text at the top of the page.
    • Written in clear, simple language, not ‘legalese’. Also, use the same language as your post!

Disclosure statements cannot be site wide.

A reader might not visit the particular page that contains it—so it’s best for disclosures to be declared with every post, whether blog, vlog or on social media.

Example? YouTube uploads need more than a disclosure in the description, as not everyone reads the description or sees the feed on YouTube directly (for example, they might see it on their Facebook feed), so the statement must be part of the video itself.

A written post, or video/image post, MUST clearly indicate at the beginning of the post if the post is sponsored and in what form that sponsorship took place (money, product, etc.) Example Company XYZ gave me samples of this product to try.

Social media posts

The posts should begin and/or end with clear hashtags, separate from any others, including options like #ad or #sponsored. The reader needs to know RIGHT OFF that they are engaging with media that has been paid for, like an ad, rather than an organic statement.

Note: if you are doing a sponsored video and sharing it on Facebook, the ad message cannot be within the first three seconds of the video. You also cannot have the ad message longer than 3 seconds. See Facebook’s Branded Policies.

If you are being hosted at an event

Then #hosted should be sufficient on posts, as long as you clearly identify who is hosting you.

“1. A testimonial, endorsement, review or other representation must disclose any “material connection” between the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation and the “entity” (as defined in the Code) that makes the product or service available to the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation, except when that material connection is one that consumers would reasonably expect to exist, such as when a celebrity publicly endorses a product or service.

2. If such a material connection exists, that fact and the nature of the material connection must be clearly and prominently disclosed in close proximity to the representation about the product or service.”

The Ad Standards Council doesn’t require bloggers to go back into their archive and mark older sponsored posts with a disclosure but does require them going forward, from early 2017. While at this time, the ability to fine bloggers or other online influencers for misleading their reader / followers is still in the development stage (compared to the American regulations), it’s coming and it makes good business sense, so be sure to remain transparent and you’ll be just fine!

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