The FTC Guides, at their core, reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading. An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make.
In addition, the Guides say, 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. For example, if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer, the ad is misleading unless the connection is made clear. The same is usually true if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.
Some Questions about Endorsements (copied from the FTC Website - link at bottom of this page):
- Q: Do the Endorsement Guides apply to social media?
A: Yes. Truth in advertising is important in all media, whether they have been around for decades (like television and magazines) or are relatively new (like blogs and social media).
- Q: If I post a picture of myself to Instagram and tag the brand of dress I’m wearing, but don’t say anything about the brand in my description of the picture, is that an endorsement? And, even if it is an endorsement, wouldn’t my followers understand that I only tag the brands of my sponsors?A: Tagging a brand you are wearing is an endorsement of the brand and, just like any other endorsement, could require a disclosure if you have a relationship with that brand. Some influencers only tag the brands of their sponsors, some tag brands with which they don’t have relationships, and some do a bit of both. Followers might not know why you are tagging a dress and some might think you’re doing it just because you like the dress and want them to know.
- Q: I am an avid social media user who often gets rewards for participating in online campaigns on behalf of brands. Is it OK for me to click a “like” button, pin a picture, or share a link to show that I’m a fan of a particular business, product, website or service as part of a paid campaign?A: Using these features to endorse a company’s products or services as part of a sponsored brand campaign probably requires a disclosure.We realize that some platforms – like Facebook’s “like” buttons – don’t allow you to make a disclosure. Advertisers shouldn’t encourage endorsements using features that don’t allow for clear and conspicuous disclosures. Whether the Commission may take action would depend on the overall impression, including whether consumers take “likes” to be material in their decision to patronize a business or buy a product.However, an advertiser buying fake “likes” is very different from an advertiser offering incentives for “likes” from actual consumers. If “likes” are from non-existent people or people who have no experience using the product or service, they are clearly deceptive, and both the purchaser and the seller of the fake “likes” could face enforcement action.
- Q: I’m a blogger. I heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?A: No. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers.
- Q: What if I upload a video to YouTube that shows me reviewing several products? Should I disclose that I got them from an advertiser?A: Yes. The guidance for videos is the same as for websites or blogs.
- Q: I’m a video blogger who lives in London. I create sponsored beauty videos on YouTube. The products that I promote are also sold in the U.S. Am I under any obligation to tell my viewers that I have been paid to endorse products, considering that I’m not living in the U.S.?
A: To the extent it is reasonably foreseeable that your YouTube videos will be seen by and affect U.S. consumers, U.S. law would apply and a disclosure would be required. Also, the U.K. and many other countries have similar laws and policies, so you’ll want to check those, too.
- Q: I’m opening a new restaurant. To get feedback on the food and service, I’m inviting my family and friends to eat for free. If they talk about their experience on social media, is that something that should be disclosed?A: You’ve raised two issues here. First, it may be relevant to readers that people endorsing your restaurant on social media are related to you. Therefore, they should disclose that personal relationship. Second, if you are giving free meals to anyone and seeking their endorsement, then their reviews in social media would be viewed as advertising subject to FTC jurisdiction. But even if you don’t specifically ask for their endorsement, there may be an expectation that attendees will spread the word about the restaurant. Therefore, if someone who eats for free at your invitation posts about your restaurant, readers of the post would probably want to know that the meal was on the house.
- Q: What is the legal basis for the Guides?
A: The FTC conducts investigations and brings cases involving endorsements made on behalf of an advertiser under Section 5 of the FTC Act, which generally prohibits deceptive advertising.The Guides are intended to give insight into what the FTC thinks about various marketing activities involving endorsements and how Section 5 might apply to those activities. The Guides themselves don’t have the force of law. However, practices inconsistent with the Guides may result in law enforcement actions alleging violations of the FTC Act. Law enforcement actions can result in orders requiring the defendants in the case to give up money they received from their violations and to abide by various requirements in the future. Despite inaccurate news reports, there are no “fines” for violations of the FTC Act.
Download the FTC Guidelines for Free:
- FTC Revised Endorsement Guide 091005 - pdf document (93 kb)
- FTC Endorsements Guide Notice 091005 - pdf document (376 kb)
For more information please see the FTC website: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking
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