A recent investigation by Public Citizen identifies more than 40 influencers who ignored recent compliance requests

The Uninfluenced

Last fall, national advocacy group Public Citizen sent a report to the Federal Trade Commission alleging that more than 100 “influencers” – actors, musicians, athletes and other high-profile individuals – and marketers had failed to disclose compensation for product endorsements on Instagram in violation of the FTC Act.

The FTC responded in April 2017 by sending compliance reminder letters to more than 90 influencers and advertisers, including luminaries such as Allen Iverson, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Lopez.

The Brush-Off

Despite this scrutiny, according to Public Citizen, almost none of the influencers heeded the FTC’s warning with any consistency. Public Citizen again wrote to the FTC on June 26, 2017, noting that despite the FTC’s “attempt to educate paid influencers and brands about the importance of using disclosures, influencers on Instagram continue to mislead consumers by posting paid endorsements without a proper disclosure.” In the letter, Public Citizen raised its concerns regarding noncompliance, noting that “it is fair to conclude that the FTC’s reminder letters have not been effective, and influencers and advertisers are disregarding both the FTC’s letter and guidelines.”

The Policy

It’s easy to see how Instagram’s format can blur the line between endorsement and advertisement. Influencers simply post a picture of a product as part of their overall presence on the site, blending in their recommendation with other news and self-promotion. The casual nature of the dialogue that ensues between the influencer’s followers and fans further disguises the nature of the endorsement. The FTC’s letter made clear that it expects brands and influencers to make proper disclosure of material connections on Instagram.

The Takeaway

Compliance with the FTC’s Endorsement Guides remains an enforcement priority for the Commission, particularly as it pertains to social influencers. In fact, the April letters marked the first occasion on which FTC staff reached out directly to social influencers to ensure they understand their disclosure obligations. To date, the FTC has not publicly commented on Public Citizen’s June 26 letter, and it is unclear whether or how the FTC will respond to it. Regardless, advertisers should remain vigilant to ensure that social influencers disclose any material connections with the advertiser and should monitor social media posts for compliance.