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3 Things Influencers Must Know About the FTC’s New Ad Guidelines

By: Michael Okada | 5 mins read |

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced major updates to its endorsement and advertising guidelines. This overhaul aims to combat deceptive influencer marketing practices.

These new rules have huge implications for how influencers promote brands and products, so if you’re an influencer or content creator (or even an aspiring one), it’s essential to know these changes inside and out. 

So let's dive deeper into the key things influencers should know about the FTC ad guidelines.

Who do the FTC Ad Guidelines apply to?

Broadly speaking, the FTC guidelines apply to any influencer or content creator doing paid promotions.

These rules do not apply if you’re simply sharing a product you love or if you’re posting about a friend’s store on social media because you want to support them – as long as you’re not getting paid for it.

1) Transparency is non-negotiable

Transparency is the cornerstone of an influencer’s trustworthiness. As the FTC ramps up its focus on crystal clear advertising, understand that any material connection you have with a brand must shine through in your content because any form of under-the-radar (or table!) promotions will not fly with the FTC.

Here are the specifics in a bit more detail:

Direct payments for posts 

This one's simple. If a brand has paid you to feature a product or mention them in your posts, you have to make your audience aware of it. Something like "Thank you [Brand] for sponsoring this post" at the beginning of your content ensures clarity. 

Free or discounted products 

If you're raving about a handbag that was sent to you for free, or if you got a special influencer discount - you must specify this clearly. An example could be, "Thanks to [Brand] for gifting me this fabulous accessory."

Affiliate partnerships that earn you commission 

Influencers must declare affiliate partnerships where they make commission. So if you're pushing a custom code or affiliate link that makes you money on every sale, transparency is critical. But it’s as easy as saying something like, "I earn a small commission for purchases made using my code/link."

For some influencers, that disclosure might even compel their audience to use the code as a way of showing support for their favorite online personalities.

Personal or familial relationships with a brand 

If your cousin owns the boutique you're promoting, or you're good friends with the founder of the skincare company you're featuring, these connections must be disclosed. 

The FTC's stance is the same whether you're a micro-influencer starting out or an established superstar with an audience of millions. They don't care about your follower count – rules are rules, and disclosure is non-negotiable for everyone. But hey, at least the FTC’s rules apply to everyone consistently! 

When in doubt, disclose it

One of the keys to avoiding FTC trouble is ensuring your disclosures are as apparent as possible. Simply tacking a "#ad" to the end of a long list of hashtags or hiding it midway through your post is a quick way to land on the FTC's radar. For clarity’s sake, your disclosure needs to be visible without your audience having to click "read more" or scroll all the way down to the fine print at the end. 

When it comes to videos, incorporate large overlay text or give a verbal shout-out at the start such as “This video is sponsored by [Brand]." For blogs or static posts, take a page out of journalism's book and don't bury the lede — place disclosures noticeably at the beginning. 

Bare-bone honesty is what the FTC is asking for, and trust us, your followers will appreciate it, too. Plus, being honest and transparent could even boost your credibility.

2) Create trustworthy and legitimate reviews

With the FTC's updated guidelines, maintaining the integrity of product reviews and endorsements is critical. It's key to preserving the consumer-influencer relationship and ensuring credibility. The updated guidelines emphasize the following key principles:

Disclose any promotions

While we covered this in the previous section, we can’t stress the importance of disclosure enough. Whether you received a skincare product for free, a high-tech gadget at a discount, or any product in exchange for a review - this must be evident in your content. A candid statement within your review like, "This company gifted me this product, but my views are unbiased and entirely my own," is important to maintain transparency.

Review based on personal experience 

It's essential that your reviews reflect your personal experience, so don’t simply take the company’s word at face value – test it for yourself! Judging a workout app, for example, before you've actually used it not only undermines your credibility but also contradicts the FTC guidelines. So stick to only reviewing products you've personally used and experienced.

It's essential to be vigilant and maintain transparency, honesty, and ethical practices in your reviews these days. This not only adheres to the FTC's guidelines but also helps in fostering long-lasting audience trust and respect.

Give honest feedback 

Truthfulness in your reviews is mandatory. If a toaster doesn't toast evenly, include this in your review rather than exaggerating the product's functionality. Also, be cautious of agreements that prohibit negative reviews – restricting honest opinions infringes upon FTC guidelines and it’s also a potential red flag that the brand you’re dealing with may be untrustworthy.

Back up your claims with evidence

Whenever making specific claims about a product's function such as, "This vacuum cleaner can pick up even the smallest dust particles," be sure to back them up with proof or data.

Avoid shady tactics 

Steer clear of unscrupulous review practices, such as accepting payment for positive reviews or participating in any ploy to penalize negative reviews. Also, using a positive review for an entirely different product or purchasing fake social engagement like followers or likes is strictly against FTC guidelines. Being a part of any brand's strategy to have employees act as fake customers posting rave reviews is also prohibited.

3) You're also on the hook

While the FTC usually targets advertisers and agencies first, influencers aren't off the hook. If you repeatedly ignore warnings about deceptive practices, you may face legal orders, fines, or repaying customers. Violations carry hefty civil penalties – up to $50,120 USD per incident as of 2023.

Though it may seem daunting, you won't be solely in the FTC's crosshairs if you uphold your responsibility towards your audience by ensuring an honest and transparent approach.

To stay on the right side of the rules, you must maintain clear disclosure of all your brand relationships. It's equally important to prevent the manipulation of product demonstrations that might deceive your audience about a product's capabilities.

Ignorance of the rules won't safeguard you from punishments. So, do your due diligence to familiarize yourself with the latest guidelines to uphold both yours and your audience's best interests. Should you need legal advice about unfamiliar guidelines, remember that consultation with legal counsel is always a prudent step. By maintaining compliance, you can avoid issues and cultivate a trusting relationship with your audience.

For more in-depth information on influencer marketing guidelines, please check out theFTC’s Endorsement Guides: Being Up-Front with Consumers”.


_About the author
Michael Okada

As Content Manager, Mike brings over 10+ years of content marketing experience to the Corporate Marketing team. He is a veteran writer who specializes in engaging, well-written, and accessible content, and he’s covered a range of verticals including SaaS, marketing, entertainment, journalism, and cannabis. At Viral Nation, he’s handled technical writing and copywriting, in addition to owning the blog and creating numerous case studies that showcase some of Viral Nation’s best work. In his off-time, Mike dabbles in music, rap, and spoken word poetry, and he excels at making his friends and colleagues roll their eyes at his cringe-level puns.