Decrying the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) lack of action against social media influencers, Truth in Advertising, Inc. (TINA), filed a formal complaint with the agency.
In 2017, the FTC sent more than 70 letters to influencers reminding them to clearly disclose their relationships with brands. Although the agency followed with a second round of missives, no enforcement actions have been taken.
Despite multiple warnings, at least 21 of the social media influencer recipients have ignored the letters and have failed to disclose their material connections to the brands they promote, TINA told the agency.
TINA collected more than 1,400 examples of the influencers promoting more than 500 companies. For example, the organization highlighted an August 2018 post (which garnered more than 300,000 likes) from movie star Vanessa Hudgens. Although the post promoted multiple products—Alice and Olivia, Le Specs, and Chad Wood Hair—to her more than 32 million Instagram followers, Hudgens made no “attempt at disclosing her material connections to these companies,” according to the complaint.
Hudgens has deceptively marketed more than 60 brands since receiving the FTC’s original warning letter, TINA said.
Examples like this demonstrate that influencers have failed to meet the FTC’s “clear and conspicuous” standard for disclosing material connections to the brands they promote, TINA told the agency. They either failed to provide any disclosures or used inconspicuous or unclear disclosures, such as placing #ad or #sponsored below the fold or relying upon Instagram’s built-in disclosure tool, which is separated from both the image and the caption.
“What is clear, however, is that these social media influencers do not take the FTC’s regulatory guidance seriously and continue to deceptively market goods and services to their fans,” TINA wrote. “It is time that the FTC takes strict enforcement action against these repeat offenders.”
To read TINA’s complaint, click here.
Why it matters: Given the multiple warnings and continued pressure from TINA, it is only a matter of time before the FTC brings an action against a social media influencer for failing to comply with the agency’s Endorsement Guides. Influencers and marketers should ensure that their disclosures are clear and conspicuous and not buried in a string of hashtags or stuck below the “more” button.