For the first time since 2009, the Federal Trade Commission has updated its endorsement guides, which set out recommendations for influencer marketing and the commercial use of online reviews.
The guidance aims to ensure that companies and endorsers don't dupe consumers with fake reviews, including paid-for testimonials that masquerade as organic commentary. The guidance itself isn't enforceable, but offers insight into the kinds of activity the FTC might claim is deceptive or unfair.
As in the past, the FTC broadly wants “material connections” between endorsers and advertisers to be disclosed to consumers. But the document issued Thursday includes some new guidance regarding specifics -- including an expanded definition of “endorsement,” new recommendations regarding disclosure placement, and new guidance regarding how advertisers treat reviews by consumers.
Among other notable changes, the FTC says social media “tags” can be endorsements.
The agency also says that disclosures in any interactive electronic medium, including social media, should be “unavoidable.” For instance, disclosures that only appear when consumers click on a link labeled “more” are not unavoidable, the agency said.
The new guidance also recommends that companies avoid "distorting" consumer reviews -- either by suppressing or editing them.
The FTC also says “material connections” between advertisers and influencers can go beyond monetary payment. Such connections can include family relationships, early access to a product, the possibility of winning a prize or appearing in a television ad.
Endorsements in ads aimed at children “may be of special concern,” the FTC said, adding that research suggests that disclosures will not work for younger children. The agency added that it is “exploring next steps” regarding ads to children in digital media.
Some of the recommendations in the new guidance have appeared before in other forms -- such as answers by the FTC to frequently asked questions, and enforcement actions.
For instance, the FTC said in 2017 that social media users who have any relationships with the businesses or people they endorse -- even friendships or family ties -- should disclose those connections when writing reviews, posting on Instagram and tweeting.
And last year, the FTC prosecuted online clothing retailer Fashion Nova for allegedly filtering out negative reviews from its website.
The same day, the FTC unveiled that complaint, it also said it warned 10 review management platforms to “terminate any services that allow for or result in consumer deception” -- including the ability to treat positive and negative reviews differently.