The FTC’s Revamped Guidelines Give Influencer Marketers Reason to Celebrate

By: Seth Arenstein, Editor, PRNEWS

November 18, 2019

It’s no secret that translating legalese into practical terms for influencers can be a pain. Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a new easy-to-follow version of its guidelines for influencers. The agency has reissued existing guidelines in the form of a booklet, Disclosures 101, and a video, below.

“The new influencer guidelines are not [new or] revisions, but instead reflect a summary of our existing guidance,” says FTC attorney Michael Atleson.

The guidelines, which have been on the FTC’s books for nearly a decade, state that influencers must clearly disclose connections to a company when they endorse its products. Much to the consternation of brand marketers, many influencers have only followed this guidance sporadically up to this point.

The FTC’s revamped guidelines play to the influencer demo, a crowd that disseminates information primarily via video and social media. “The video is a way to get out our basic message to influencers about disclosing brand relationships,” Atleson says. “Hopefully, the video will lead people to the guide and our other written materials.” For influencers, this is a major improvement from the lengthy earlier version of the FTC guidelines posted online.

In the re-issued guidelines, the language is clearer. “We thought it would be helpful to summarize [the] guidance in a short, easy-to-read format that influencers can use to make sure they follow our key principles and tips for disclosing their brand relationships,” Atleson says.

The industry reviews are in, and they’re positive: Allison Fitzpatrick, a partner at the law firm Davis & Gilbert LLP, who’s spent years poring over FTC documents, is impressed. “The new disclosure booklet and video provide practical tips in a very easy-to-understand format,” she says. She calls the FTC’s language “plain and understandable.”

Given that many influencers are under 20 years old, offering a clear, concise explanation of things is a public service.

In addition, the reissued guidelines put influencers on notice. “The onus is on influencers to make clear and effective disclosures in their social media posts,” Fitzpatrick says.  Specifically, the Disclosure Guide tells influencers that “it’s your responsibility to make these disclosures, to be familiar with the Endorsement Guides and to comply with laws against deceptive ads.”

But that doesn’t mean brands are off the hook, says Atleson: “It’s also true that the brand paying the influencer is responsible for those disclosures being made.”

The reissue also re-emphasizes several important items: For example, influencers cannot talk about their experience with a product if they have not tried it, Fitzpatrick notes. Similarly, they can’t make positive statements about a product when they think that it’s terrible.

That’s good news, given how hard it is to assess the authenticity of influencer claims on social. You know that couple you follow on Instagram; the one that seems to visit a different beach every week? Do the resorts provide the couple with all-expenses-paid trips? You’ll soon know. For influencers across every industry, from travel to gaming, these disclosures apply. No excuses: Influencers must lay out these connections in a clear, easily understood statement that’s displayed prominently.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS. Follow him at: @skarenstein

At The Social Shake-Up