The FTC stands for the Federal Trade Commission. Essentially, their job is to protect consumers. I will be 100% honest, today is the first day that I have gone directly to the FTC website and read the requirements in place for bloggers. (Shame on me). Unfortunately, I realized that I am not appropriately disclosing certain information on my blog and social media posts. Obviously, I will do my best to remedy this situation but I thought it would be helpful to share what I have learned.
After reading through the FTC website, here is the most relevant information I have obtained. These are my interpretations based on what I read. Please see below for direct quotes obtained from the FTC website.
A Bloggers Guide to the FTC and Disclosures:
- If you receive money OR free products – you must disclose
- If you receive money OR free products – you must disclose EVERY time you mention them
- Posting a photo of a product you received for free (on Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) is considered an endorsement and you must disclose
- These disclosures also apply to Twitter (you should use the hashtag #ad)
- Disclosures should be clear and conspicuous
- Do not just say it is an “affiliate link”, you need to explain what an affiliate link is
- Do not include the disclosures below the affiliate links or at the bottom of the blog post. They should be before the affiliate links. It is recommended to include the disclosures at the top of the blog post.
- For YouTube videos, disclosures should be verbal and at the beginning of the video.
Source: the information below was obtained directly from the FTC website.
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?
… If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered. Bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them also are covered.
Several months ago a manufacturer sent me a free product and asked me to write about it in my blog. I tried the product, liked it, and wrote a favorable review. When I posted the review, I disclosed that I got the product for free from the manufacturer. I still use the product. Do I have to disclose that I got the product for free every time I mention it in my blog?
It might depend on what you say about it, but each new endorsement made without a disclosure could be deceptive because readers might not see the original blog post where you said you got the product free from the manufacturer.
I share in my social media posts about products I use. Do I actually have to say something positive about a product for my posts to be endorsements covered by the FTC Act?
Simply posting a picture of a product in social media, such as on Pinterest, or a video of you using it could convey that you like and approve of the product. If it does, it’s an endorsement.
Is there special wording I have to use to make the disclosure?
No. The point is to give readers the essential information. A simple disclosure like “Company X gave me this product to try . . . .” will usually be effective.
Do I have to hire a lawyer to help me write a disclosure?
No. What matters is effective communication, not legalese. A disclosure like “Company X sent me [name of product] to try, and I think it’s great” gives your readers the information they need. Or, at the start of a short video, you might say, “Some of the products I’m going to use in this video were sent to me by their manufacturers.” That gives the necessary heads-up to your viewers.
Are you saying that I need to list the details of everything I get from a company for reviewing a product?
No. As long as your audience knows the nature of your relationship, it’s good enough. So whether you got $50 or $1,000 you could simply say you were “paid.” (That wouldn’t be good enough, however, if you’re an employee or co-owner.)
Would a single disclosure on my home page that “many of the products I discuss on this site are provided to me free by their manufacturers” be enough?
A single disclosure on your home page doesn’t really do it because people visiting your site might read individual reviews or watch individual videos without seeing the disclosure on your home page.
If I upload a video to YouTube and that video requires a disclosure, can I just put the disclosure in the description that I upload together with the video?
No, because it’s easy for consumers to miss disclosures in the video description. Many people might watch the video without even seeing the description page, and those who do might not read the disclosure. The disclosure has the most chance of being effective if it is made clearly and prominently in the video itself. That’s not to say that you couldn’t have disclosures in both the video and the description.
What about a platform like Twitter? How can I make a disclosure when my message is limited to 140 characters?
The FTC isn’t mandating the specific wording of disclosures. However, the same general principle – that people get the information they need to evaluate sponsored statements – applies across the board, regardless of the advertising medium. The words “Sponsored” and “Promotion” use only 9 characters. “Paid ad” only uses 7 characters. Starting a tweet with “Ad:” or “#ad” – which takes only 3 characters – would likely be effective.
The Guides say that disclosures have to be clear and conspicuous. What does that mean?
To make a disclosure “clear and conspicuous,” advertisers should use clear and unambiguous language and make the disclosure stand out. Consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily. They should not have to look for it. In general, disclosures should be:
- close to the claims to which they relate;
- in a font that is easy to read;
- in a shade that stands out against the background;
- for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
- for audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand.
A disclosure that is made in both audio and video is more likely to be noticed by consumers. Disclosures should not be hidden or buried in footnotes, in blocks of text people are not likely to read, or in hyperlinks. If disclosures are hard to find, tough to understand, fleeting, or buried in unrelated details, or if other elements in the ad or message obscure or distract from the disclosures, they don’t meet the “clear and conspicuous” standard. With respect to online disclosures, FTC staff has issued a guidance document, .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising, which is available on ftc.gov.
I guess I need to make a disclosure that I’ve gotten paid for a video review that I’m uploading to YouTube. When in the review should I make the disclosure? Is it ok if it’s at the end?
It’s more likely that a disclosure at the end of the video will be missed, especially if someone doesn’t watch the whole thing. Having it at the beginning of the review would be better. Having multiple disclosures during the video would be even better. Of course, no one should promote a link to your review that bypasses the beginning of the video and skips over the disclosure. If YouTube has been enabled to run ads during your video, a disclosure that is obscured by ads is not clear and conspicuous.
I’m an affiliate marketer with links to an online retailer on my website. When people read what I’ve written about a particular product and then click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn a commission from the retailer. What do I have to disclose? Where should the disclosure be?
If you disclose your relationship to the retailer clearly and conspicuously on your site, readers can decide how much weight to give your endorsement.
In some instances – like when the affiliate link is embedded in your product review – a single disclosure may be adequate. When the review has a clear and conspicuous disclosure of your relationship and the reader can see both the review containing that disclosure and the link at the same time, readers have the information they need. You could say something like, “I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.” But if the product review containing the disclosure and the link are separated, readers may lose the connection.
As for where to place a disclosure, the guiding principle is that it has to be clear and conspicuous. The closer it is to your recommendation, the better. Putting disclosures in obscure places – for example, buried on an ABOUT US or GENERAL INFO page, behind a poorly labeled hyperlink or in a “terms of service” agreement – isn’t good enough. Neither is placing it below your review or below the link to the online retailer so readers would have to keep scrolling after they finish reading. Consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily. They shouldn’t have to hunt for it.
Is “affiliate link” by itself an adequate disclosure? What about a “buy now” button?
Consumers might not understand that “affiliate link” means that the person placing the link is getting paid for purchases through the link. Similarly, a “buy now” button would not be adequate.
Wow. After reading these questions I know that most of the “influencers” I know are violating FTC Rules. I hope this was helpful to my fellow bloggers. For my readers, know that I will make my best effort to make sure that my blog posts are in line with FTC requirements.