The Skinny on FTC Disclosures // What You Need To Know

» 11 August, 2016 » Blogger to Blogger » 25 comments

FTC Disclosures

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Speaking of disclosures, I am not a lawyer and the content below is not legal advice. This is a recap and interpretation of the information provided by the FTC and can be found here.

It’s over a year since I have broached a legal topic. Last year, I talked about giveaways, and the legality of them and how often times they are illegal. And then we talked about privacy, and how obtaining PII puts you in a situation in remaining compliant with Privacy Laws when it comes to storing and sharing. It’s all very boring, but important, and if you missed those I highly recommend checking it out.

In any case, today I want to talk about FTC guidelines. As always with these discussion posts, there is something that sparks them. As it pertains to this topic, there are several contributions, but the main one is the huge influx of bookish products out there (hey, no judging because I have a store, too!) and those products being sent out for “review” or endorsement, rather, or as a rep.

In reading the comments on another blog post about this topic, and the recent conversation with fellow bloggers, it’s become apparent that individuals either don’t understand FTC endorsement guidelines or just don’t care. But the fact of the matter is, if you receive something for FREE to endorse or review, you must disclose it.

Period.

What’s an endorsement? An endorsement is an act of giving one’s public approval or support to someone or something. Source  So that means if you say OMG I LOVE X! It’s (amazing, beautiful, blah de blah) You are endorsing the product/item/person, whether you intend to or not.

Do you remember when there were changes to the FTC guidelines, and it was made clear that a general blank disclosure that you receive items for free would not suffice, and each time you mention the product, you have to disclose? This goes for social media. Putting in your bio that you are a rep for a company, or only disclosing once in a post 3 weeks ago, does not cover you when it comes to remaining complaint. Each time you talk about and/or endorse the item/product, you must disclose. In addition, you CANNOT review, or praise a product, without using it first. 

Example: FAQ from website:

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.

When promoting those posts on social media, you should be using a hashtag such as #ad, or #sponsored (if paid),  since those cover you under the ACT. You must also say, “I was given X for free,” or “I was provided these items from X for endorsement/review,” or “I’m a rep for X and was provided these items for endorsement,” on any social media that allows for long text (in addition to blog posts), so your readers/followers understand the relationship. Also, said disclosure needs to be in the beginning of your post, not at the end.

Here’s the general rule – if your readers or followers do not understand the scope of your relationship with the “manufacturer” you must disclose it. If you receive a product FOR FREE to review/endorse, you must disclose it. This also includes if you received a coupon to redeem. It boggles my ever-loving MIND that these companies don’t require disclosures*. The companies I work with? It’s clear as day in EVERY SINGLE EMAIL or conversation that I MUST disclose I received the product and use the hashtag #ad on ALL social media, ON EVERY POST, on EVERY platform. If I don’t, I’m banned. THE END.

From another perspective, as a small business owner, it makes me uncomfortable and is THE SOLE REASON I do not send the items I craft out for “reps” or ANYONE for free (unless it was a gift). As a consumer, it’s frustrating because there is no transparency. I hate to question whether or not they’re genuine but to be honest, I don’t believe most of them. THEY NEVER DISCLOSE. #Truestory

One thing I hear a lot is how the FTC doesn’t “police” their policies, which is true. The sheer number of people to monitor is astounding. Another thing I hear is that it’s rare for them to go “after” a blogger/endorser/manufacturer. Which ISN’T true. If there are complaints and reason for them to investigate, they sure as hell will prosecute. Such as it was with this case. Oh, and this → here too. Ther was also a case involving Oreo last year with YouTubers. The FTC has a consumer focus, that means they investigate ALL claims/reports.

*I have emailed three well-known companies, inquiring why they don’t require their “partners” to disclose, and if they have a disclosure policy, and as of today, only one wrote back. I left their typos and their response is a crock of shit. I’m sure the FTC will STRONGLY disagree.

“[…] When co-operating with an individual on a social mediaplatform we, for example, make her or him state a unique discount code, whichcan be used on our website. Such measures shows that there is an existing commercialrelationship between the individual and [name removed]. We are howeveralways looking for new ways to develop our marketing and will take your concerninto consideration.”

Are you a rep? Receive products for free? Here's what you need to know about FTC disclosure… Click To Tweet

Tl;Dr

  • If you receive a product FOR FREE and you are ENDORSING that product, you need to disclose that, and your relationship, with the public. On every post. Example: you work 1:1 with a company and they want you to share 3-5 pics of their product, in addition to sales, and a review, and it was given to you for free, YOU MUST DISCLOSE THAT. Simply saying ” I rep for X” or “I got my package today!” Does not suffice. Or like that company thinks, using that “unique coupon code.” Geez what a crock that is.
  • You CANNOT share “your experience” with a product if you haven’t tried it. Example: you can’t say something is durable if you haven’t worn it. Something tastes amazing when you haven’t tried it. Or a candle smells AMAZEBALLs when burning when it’s NEVER been lit.

What you should do

  • DISCLOSE DISCLOSE DISCLOSE. If you receive a product to share, review or endorse, on ANY platform, SAY SO. This includes brand reps. It’s a SIMPLE.SENTANCE people. Also, use the hashtag #ad and use #sponsored if you were paid.
  • If you’re a business, make sure your people/reps are clearly stating your relationship, and that are receiving the item for free. YOU are liable for this, and it’s your responsibility to make sure your reps are disclosing properly. Seriously. It falls on YOU.
  • Report. If you find companies are not requiring their advertisers, reps, and endorsers to disclose, report to the FTC. There are rules in place FOR A REASON.
  • Speak Up and ask questions. I have spent hours and hours leading up to DAYS and WEEKS researching this, and can help you if you don’t understand. But again, I am not a lawyer.

Let’s Talk

  • Be honest, do you disclose?
  • Were you familiar with the strict FTC guidelines?
  • How do you feel about bloggers and endorsers (reps) not disclosing when they receive an item for free on social media posts? What about their blog?

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tonyalee

Tonyalee is an avid reader, coffee junkie, junk food addicted workaholic and blogger. Be sure to follow on Twitter for random shenanigans.
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25 responses to “The Skinny on FTC Disclosures // What You Need To Know

  1. Nick

    This was amazing, Tonya. I know we’ve talked a lot about what you’ve discovered the past week while you were researching this, but there were some things that I didn’t know, like the fact that you must have actually tried the product before saying how amazing it is and etc…
    It baffles me that people refuse to disclose. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal to write a simple sentence at the top to let readers/viewers know that the product was obtained for free. What’s so hard about that? Are they worried people won’t take them seriously if they do so? It’s like book reviews, I guess. Just because a person is reviewing an ARC doesn’t mean that they are being dishonest because they got it for free. So I don’t get why people are worried to disclose when they get products. I feel like this is a situation that won’t change unless someone within the community gets into trouble. And nobody wants that because the $$$ would be crazy.
    Nick recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday (118): Teen Assassins & Social Media Love StoriesMy Profile

    • tonyalee

      Thank you! I’m glad some people are reading it and getting an idea. Sadly, a lot of people think this is post was about books, which is kinda way, but it’s about SO MUCH MORE.

      I think saying something is amazing before you tried it is a big one. It’s false advertising, for one LOL I saw so many posts on Instagram about candles smelling amazing while burning and the wick wasn’t even lit! LOL c’mon people.

  2. Nereyda Gonzalez

    Fantastic post! I hate hate hate how everyone is so fucking shady, specifically on Instagram. I did a few sponsored posts on my other blog and there were sooo many rules and I made sure I followed them all or else I would get kicked out of the program. The disclosure has to be at the top pf the post, clearly visible and in the hashtags on all social media. I hate how people try to get around disclosures by using stupid shit like ‘partnered with’ or ‘collaborating.’ If you want your viewers to take you seriously, then you have to be honest. Bottom line.

    I hate how some people try to blame it on the companies for either telling them NOT to use a disclosure or for not enforcing it, which are both illegal. Why would you want to work with someone who is doing shady business practices?

    It’s really hard for me to be on Instagram now because everything is rep searches and infomercials and it not only sounds fake but I can’t take any of them seriously when they refuse to disclose. No money needs to be exchanged in order to be required to post!

    Like you, it boggles my mind how many bloggers know the rules and simply don’t care. I’ve unfollowed a lot of bloggers/instagrammers for that reason. It’s not hard to disclose people!

    • tonyalee

      Yeah, I’m finding more and more people are. Without tagging them, I don’t know what else to do! I think beauty, food and life bloggers GET IT. Those company’s don’t play around LOL

      Well, you should disclose you partner with someone, but you still need to say you received it for free. I went around and gathered some posts of people that didn’t disclose, (that blog we talked about included) but I can’t bring myself to call them out. I am not the FTC police.

      I think there is a level of responsibilty on the company though. It’s their product, and the people they choose to work with.They should have a tracking system in place. It falls more onto them anyway, vs the blogger, unless the blogger is a HUGE rule breaker
      tonyalee recently posted…Rest in Pieces, My Little Car // Weekly Wrap Up 121My Profile

  3. Valerie

    Awesome post Tonya! I was half aware of how strict the FTC guidelines were, but it wasn’t until I read those two articles you linked to, one that even involved a blogger!

    Honestly I feel like many wouldn’t take this so seriously. At least not until a bookstagrammer (or booktuber, blogger, the likes) gets caught up with it. I haven’t repped anything yet, but I would definitely disclose it if I did!
    Valerie recently posted…Review: FurthermoreMy Profile

  4. Geraldine @ Corralling Books

    I usually disclose how I received books in a one sentence phrase at the start of any review. I’e seen a lot of people italicise it, so I wasn’t sure how explicit I had to make the statement. I’ve just always put it in there as part of the review – and reading your post, that sounds like it’s fine? So long as I’ve got an actual sentence in there disclosing, right? 🙂
    Fantastic post though – I can’t imagine how much effort you must have gone through, researching everything to have it in a handy place for all of us! 🙂
    Geraldine @ Corralling Books recently posted…The Aussie YA Blog Hop | In Which I Cheat and Have Too Many AnswersMy Profile

  5. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    Huh, I guess I never even thought about having to disclose on social media or to disclose *every time* you praise a product. I only receive ebooks though, and I do always put a sentence at the top of the review stating I received the book from the author/publisher/wherever for free in exchange for an honest review. I’ve seen people put the statement at the end, but I always liked to have it right there at the start so that no one would think I was trying to deceive them or something. I didn’t even realize it was required to be at the top. It does bother me when I see book reviews though and I feel like the person must’ve gotten it for free in exchange for a review (like when it’s posted months before the book comes out), yet there’s no disclosure anywhere :-/

    Great post!
    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight recently posted…Book Review: The Hypnotic City (The Gold and Gaslight Chronicles Book 2) by Andrea BerthotMy Profile

    • tonyalee

      The question would be, what is “praising”? If you are having a 1:1 conversation about a product, you should you say, “oh yeah, BTW, totally got this for free to review!”

      Yes, it’s required at the top. Yeah, i see reviews like that too. Even though we don’t have to disclose if we WON a book, if I won a book 6 months before pub date, and reviewed it, I would disclose i won it so people didn’t think I was lying.
      tonyalee recently posted…Rest in Pieces, My Little Car // Weekly Wrap Up 121My Profile

  6. Nya

    This is a very helpful post, and I couldn’t agree more. I don’t do sponsored posts (for now, at least) but every time I receive a free book, I disclose it. Even if this means having a negative review – because it happens (and it’s another thing I make clear when I receive a book to review). All opinions are my own and when I love something, it’s because I really ‘love’ something.

  7. S. J. Pajonas

    Wow. This is a great topic and not something people think about often. You did a fantastic job of breaking it all down in a clear way. I’ll have to remember the bit about disclosing that I got a free copy of something in later blog posts that mention it. Very good to know.
    S. J. Pajonas recently posted…Where I Write – A Look At My WorkspacesMy Profile

    • tonyalee

      Thank you! I was hoping it came out right (clear and concise) without sounding condescending. But it just makes me sad so many don’t know about FTC or just don’t care.

      Actually, that depends on how you are mentioning the product. if it comes off as an endorsement, or a review, then yes, you would have to disclose.
      tonyalee recently posted…Rest in Pieces, My Little Car // Weekly Wrap Up 121My Profile

  8. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    Personally, I only receive books for review and I always disclose when that’s the case. Otherwise, I don’t accept products or anything else from people. In terms of “reps” for bookish shops, I dislike those most of the time. The reps never fully disclose when they ARE reps. Sometimes in their bio, but if I’m just scrolling through my feed and see their photo and they’ve tagged X shop in it, it’d be nice to know they got those things for free and are responsible for promoting them.
    Molly @ Molly’s Book Nook recently posted…In Which I’m Actually Playing Catch-UpMy Profile

  9. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    This is really good information, Tonya! I always include a disclaimer in my reviews – there’s only been one place that I’ve received something other than books for free from, and I disclosed that when I talked about the product. But I don’t know that I would have thought about it for social media or for instagram. Need to check how I’ve been doing this and making sure I’m complying.
    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted…Sunday Post & Giveaways Galore – 8/14/16My Profile

  10. Got My Book

    Thanks for putting this together. I always disclose when I have received a free book for review (I haven’t done any products). But you have made me think about whether I need to do more if I mention that book in a list or something in the future.

    I don’t do any actual “reading” in bed, but I listen to one of my favorite audiobooks almost every night to help me deal with my insomnia. (But I am allergic to cats.) Actually, since I am an audiobookaholic, I pretty much listen everywhere but work (it’s not allowed) and church (I’m not that addicted). Physical books are usually read while sitting on my couch or lounging in the tub.

    My Most Recent Discussion: Oh the Horrors… or Not: Spoilers

  11. Marg

    I know what discussion inspired this post… 😀 I do disclose on each post on my blog if I have received something for review (I started stating at the top the format of the book and how I received it). I’m less good doing so on GR or Amazon (mostly because I know Amazon hates when you mention ARCs or the author in reviews and apparently has been deleting reviews because of that?). I have tried to research as much as possible regarding FTC guidelines and adhere to them; I’m just not always 100% sure I’m wording it correctly?

    Also, it does bother me when people don’t adhere to the guidelines, whether they use a blanket statement or they gush without having used the product.

    Great post, T!
    Marg recently posted…Giveaway: Mary’s Clearing HouseMy Profile

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