FTC Lays Down the Law on Endorsed Tweets

The FTC updated their .com Disclosure guidelines for the first time since 2000. It took 13 years for them to modernize this document, only to put out the message that it doesn’t matter what medium advertisements are on – print, radio, TV, social – the same exact rules apply. However, when you dive a little deeper, you reach the PDF’s updated laws for advertisement disclosures – specifically for Twitter and celebrity endorsements.

The new guidelines apply to all social networks, but the FTC focused specifically on Twitter because of its infamous 140 character limit. Sites with longer character limits have no excuse for leaving out disclosures, but twitter’s micro-posts have raised many questions about ad ethics over the years. Now any paid endorsement must include two parts: 1. the statement that it’s an advertisement and not an organic tweet and 2. the acknowledgment that the product might not work exactly as the endorser promises.

evalongoria3.14First, it’s not enough to include a hyperlink in tweets that lead to product disclosures. The probability that the average follower clicks on that link is low, so ad copy must share the 140 characters with disclosures. If not, anyone who reads a tweet and then buys the product in a store can argue that he or she was misled by the online endorsement.

While this seems like a copywriter’s nightmare (140 characters is limited enough, what do you mean I have to write a disclaimer for it too?) the FTC provided examples and ways for businesses to keep their disclosures short and sweet. For part one, they encourage users to begin every sponsored tweet with “#ad:” so followers know what they’re getting into. The FTC even went so far as to explain how the commonly used “#spon” hashtag confuses readers – especially when placed at the end.

For the second part, mentioning that the product may not work as well for the average user as it does for most celebrities, the FTC showed that adding words like “typically” or “about” prevents misleading statements. The common example they used throughout was a celebrity endorsing a weight loss product: “Typical loss: 1 lb/wk.”

pintester3.14Naturally advertisers have to use common sense when creating endorsed tweets, yes they have to follow these rules, but all products don’t need disclaimers. If Starbucks were to pay a celebrity to tweet, they wouldn’t have to cover their bases with “Yum, Caramel Macciatos at Starbucks are typically delicious!” however, they would still need to use the “#ad:” hashtag.

Leaving no stone unturned, the FTC even outlined how disclaimers must be included in the same tweet, not broken into back-to-back tweets. A disclaimer tweeted seconds after an advertisement can get lost in the shuffle and missed by consumers. (The short version of the guidelines could have read: idiot-proof your ads so you don’t get sued.)

The question to ask about these guidelines is whether or not the new rules decrease the pull of paid celebrity endorsements. Should marketers still pay Snoop Dogg $8,000 per tweet if his 10 million followers know to stop reading once they see the “#ad:” hashtag? If celebrities will endorse any company willing to write a check, do their tweets mean more than other sponsored stories?

Comments

  1. Jennifer Buggica says

    I have to admit that I take a tweet from a celebrity a little less seriously (okay, a lot less seriously) when I see the hashtag showing that it’s a sponsored post. But, come on, that is so ridiculous that there has to be so many foolproof rules around everything nowadays. People are so quick to blame someone else for something not working out. I miss the days of free speech.

    • says

      Being paid to promote a product isn’t free speech. It’s media manipulation. I think it’s only right that we should know that when a celebrity endorses something its because they are getting a wadge of cash for doing so.

      • Amanda Dodge says

        I agree. I hit the mute button when ads come on TV, change stations on the radio and block pop ups, I want to know when I’m reading an ad so I can skip it.

        • HilarityEnsues says

          You think you’re tuning marketing out? Sweetheart, you haven’t even scratched the surface. This isn’t a paranoid conspiracy. The simple fact of the matter is that every waking moment that you interact with society you’re being marketed to. It’s a reality of the world we live in. The only sad thing here is that you think you’re somehow able to avoid it. You’re avoiding blatant advertisements. You’re easily falling for more muted marketing.

          But nah, keep telling yourself that you’re different.

  2. says

    I don’t think this is necessarily a free speech issue either. If they’re being paid to endorse, then it’s only fair they disclose it. In the long run, I think that this kind of thing will only protect consumers; even if they are sheep for immediately running out to purchase whatever their favorite celebrity is tweeting about.

    A bigger question for me would be whether this applies to all the product placement that has become so popular in television and movies? I don’t, for instance, see a disclosure notice pop up on the screen every time someone is using a MacBook Pro on CSI, although I’m 90% positive that the show is being paid to feature that computer. Nor would I really -want- to see that disclaimer; it would annoy the bejeezus out of me.

    And let’s be honest. Caramel Macciatos at Starbucks ARE typically delicious. #ad

    • Amanda Dodge says

      Jeff Probst of Survivor tweets about that! Whenever a brand is featured as a reward — like Coca-Cola — he comments online how the future of advertising is integrating products further into content. Anyone can fast forward through commercials, but no one wants to skip the survivors forming alliances over an Outback Steakhouse lunch.

  3. says

    I signed up once for a site that pays you to tweet – forget what it is called, but all those tweets had to have #ad or they wouldn’t approve them. I never really thought about it any other time. So, if I am tweeting about a blog post that I wrote that is showcasing a particular company, do I need to add the #ad too? My blog is hooked up so it automatically posts to twitter, same with my website…it wouldn’t look too professional to have #ad at the beginning of my title..lol.

    Linda

      • Amanda Dodge says

        Fortunately, no. I’d imagine the PR industry would a take a hit as well if all media had to call any coverage or product reviews advertisements. It’s meant to be clear to the consumer that the only reason the account is talking about the product in the first place is because they’re getting paid for it. Also, I think tweeting about blog posts is still promoting your blog and driving traffic to it, so your auto-tweets should be good. I hope that helped?

    • Amanda Dodge says

      Good question, if you’re doing business in the US, it’s probably a good idea to follow US laws. Ireland just had this debate last week. They thought about restricting comments sections which meant companies like Facebook and Twitter would have to comply with their laws because they have offices there.

  4. says

    Thanks for the heads up , this is really aggravating when hiking about twitter, and also if advertisers will be sour nosed now and not as xcited sense the take at own risk thing has to be said, it would give doubt in everyone’s product even if its top of the line product

    • Amanda Dodge says

      Oh you’re fine! It’s meant to let consumers be aware that the product the person is tweeting about may not reflect their views, they’re just getting paid for it. This way I can’t go out and buy the “magical weight loss cure” because a meme account told me to, then sue them if it doesn’t work. Tweet away!

  5. says

    Good to know Amanda. I use sites like Sponsored Tweets for advertisement on my twit account and they automatically add in the “advertisement” disclaimer, but I also offer the option of businesses to Twitter sponsor me and this will absolutely come in handy for what I should/need to write. Twitter is SO difficult with it’s flash blurb of 140 characters, but I’m sure we’ll find innovative ways to get the word across without breaking any rules X (fingers crossed). Thanks for sharing!

  6. says

    I do find this slightly amusing. I think if twitterers have to point out things are ads, then advertisers in magazines should be made to put huge disclaimers across their photos saying *things are photoshopped*.
    #ad is a huge percentage of an ad. Let’s get all advertising on an equal footing.

  7. Michael Surdyka says

    We are releasing a new product and trying to create awareness. We plan to hire Brand Ambassadors that will naturally talk about the product on their social media accounts and at their colleges. Is the #ad necessary in that situation?

    Thanks

Trackbacks

  1. […] 2. Ads should be tagged as such on social media Is a company sponsoring a post on your site or asking you to tweet about their services? Then you need to use the hashtag #ad or #sponsored when you post on social media. This is a legal necessity so that anyone who clicks on your link automatically knows they’re going to see content that you were paid to promote. […]

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