The Secret to Disclosure: The Rules on Sponsored Posts in Social Media

Ever since we dubbed content as king, there's been an explosion of branded promotion dished out by influencers, bloggers, and even average joes throughout social media. At a glance, this is win-win; companies build their brand and consumers benefit from a wealth of useful, relevant, and often times inspiring information.

But when the advertising and content world mesh together, things can get a little tricky.

I experienced this recently during my morning commute as I was standing on the Metro platform, cell phone in one hand, iced coffee in the other. Like most millennials, I took the opportunity to scroll through my Instagram feed and noticed my favorite fashion blogger wearing another devastatingly chic ensemble. Immediately I was overcome by a feeling of urgency to click through the post to find out where I could purchase this perfectly polished outfit. When I scrolled to the bottom of the post, I read, “This post was a partnership with Nordstrom.”

Despite the realization that the ensemble was not the genius brainchild of the blogger, but rather a gift from a marketing team sitting around a conference table, my enthusiasm did not waiver. As a marketer myself, I know that reaching consumers in an organic content-based way is highly effective because it inserts an advertisement seamlessly into a space where the consumer welcomes it, while leveraging the authority of influencer endorsements.

In fact, this type of consumer interaction has a name: native advertising, a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the content in which it is placed. Understandably so, the reception for native advertising has been mixed amongst consumers and regulators alike. One can imagine how in today’s digital world the regulatory lines can get blurry when the advertiser wants you to feel, well, not advertised to.

The danger of these blurred lines (cue, Robin Thicke) is best exemplified by the recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) crack down on retailer Lord & Taylor. The fashion industry giant was charged with deceiving consumers by not disclosing the sponsorship of paid article placements in an online fashion magazine and paid Instagram posts using fashion bloggers.

Some hefty legal fees and a settlement later, it is pretty clear that no one wants to relive the Lord & Taylor misrepresentation mishap. That is why here at RepEquity, we have muddled through the legal jargon to give you some basic tips to ensure your native advertising is A-OK with the FTC requirements of disclosure.

Be transparent. From the FTC’s perspective, transparency is key.  An advertisement or promotional message shouldn’t suggest or imply to consumers that it’s anything other than an ad.

When in doubt, disclose: The FTC admits that some native ads may be so clearly commercial in nature that they are unlikely to mislead consumers even without a specific disclosure. However, in other instances a disclosure may be necessary to ensure that consumers understand that the content is advertising. We say, when in doubt, a disclosure is always the best way to go.

Make the disclosure clear and prominent. If a disclosure is necessary to prevent deception, the disclosure must be clear and prominent. Clear and prominent means the disclosure must be:

  • Unambiguous.
  • Close to the native ads to which the disclosure relates. For digital ads, this means the disclosure cannot live on a separate landing page accessible by a link.
  • In a font that is easy to read, and in a color that stands out clearly against the background.
  • On the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood (for video ads).
  • Read at a cadence that’s easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand (for audio disclosures).

A hashtag isn’t enough. In the social media world, marketers can obsess over hashtags as a tool to insert their client into a discussion of a trending topic. However, for disclosure purposes, hashtags are not sufficient. Your social copy needs to explicitly state that what your consumers are viewing is a sponsored advertisement. The standard to follow: ask yourself, “could this be misleading in any way?”

Finally, don’t let the laws scare you away from engaging with your consumers through native advertising. This new way of advertising is quickly becoming an industry standard, and a fantastic way to disseminate information or inspire an action within your target audience.

Want to learn more about how you can incorporate native into your media plan? Drop us a line