Recently, YouTube came under fire from consumer advocacy groups who accused them of presenting kids with ads disguised as user-generated content in their YouTube Kids app. This is quite the charge considering the lengths YouTube says they have gone to in order to make sure the app was created properly.
Whether you are a video giant like YouTube, a content creator, or anything in between, the FTC has some very specific guidance on how to disclose endorsements on the internet. While the underlying principles have not changed, a recent update to their “What People are Asking” page clarifies some points of confusion to let you know exactly what you must do in order properly disclose advertising relationships.
FTC Guidelines: Video Sponsorship Deals
We have discussed how YouTubers are in breach of FTC guidelines if they fail to disclose sponsorship or endorsement deals before, and the core principles behind the FTC’s guidance, first and foremost, state that there should be truth-in-advertising. If “there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed”. This absolutely applies to online video and social media according to the FTC, and the following is required:
Sponsorship Disclosure: Use the Necessary Language
There is no hard and fast rule to how you must say/write your relationship, but the fact is that you must state it in a manner that is clear to all readers/viewers. Just stating that you got a “sneak peek” is not sufficient. Just having a link to an official disclosure is also not accepted. The FTC also confirm that hyperlinks do not “convey the importance, nature and relevance of information to which it leads”.
In Video: Specifically state that “Company X gave me this product to try . . .”. Having an annotation or something in the description box is a plus, but does not fully satisfy the requirement. You should absolutely cover yourself by leading the video off with a verbal cue. Disclosures can’t be placed somewhere that could be easily missed, that is why you should always state it in your video first thing.
In her 'Back to School: High School Makeup Tutorial!' video, YouTuber Claudia Sulewski makes it very clear that it is made in collaboration with cosmetic giant Maybelline. She also mentions the brand, and the sponsorship deal at the end of her tutorial (around the 3:31 mark). She should have stated at the very start of the clip that the video was made as part of an endorsement deal. That way, her audience will have known what to expect, and - more importantly - the vast majority of viewers will be aware of the situation before the tutorial starts. The fact that she mentions the deal towards the end of the video, when a significant percentage of viewers may have stopped watching, means that a large chunk of her audience wouldn't have been aware of the brand promotion behind it.
In Type: If the medium allows for it (like blogs or Facebook) a similar statement should be typed out, as would be said for video. If the medium (like Twitter) has certain character restraints, be aware that a disclosure on a profile page “may not adequately informer consumers of your connection”. The FTC suggests supplementing a paid tweet with “sponsored”, “promotion”, “ad:” or #ad.
When To Disclose a Relationship
Every time you review a product, you do not need to officially disclose whether it was free or paid for by yourself. But any time an endorsement is made as a result of a relationship with a sponsor in which you were paid, you must include the necessary language. When you receive free products “with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss” them, you’re clear. Keep in mind that the value of the product may impact whether or not you should disclose the relationship, even if it’s a free product.
Another thing to think about is how it appears to the public. If you continually receive free stuff in exchange for reviews, it would be good practice to always state that up front. If you ever think that knowing your relationship with the sponsor, how you got the product and whether you paid for it would impact the opinion of your viewers/readers, disclose that relationship.
For best practice, if you are producing video content that includes product or service reviews that you weren't sponsored for, then why not confirm this and make it clear, both to your viewers (and the FTC or your country's equivalent).
YouTuber Kathleen Lights is famous for her make-up tutorials and when her content doesn't include a brand deal, she confirms this in the video description. In her 'Full Face Drugstore Makeup Tutorial & Affordable Brushes!' upload, she lists all the different cosmetics she has used, but clearly states that the video isn't part of an endorsement deal. The fact that she includes contact details for brands to approach her for promotion opportunities elsewhere in the description, suggests that her claim of non-sponsorship for this clip is genuine, and lends credibility to her as a creator.
Video Sponsorship Deals: Other Facts to Consider
- Do not talk about something you haven’t done/tried in a paid sponsorship
- If you genuinely hated a product, do not lie
- Do not make claims about a product that cannot be supported
The bottom line is that it is your responsibility to reveal any relationships that may impact the weight of your endorsement. If there is any question at all about whether or not you should disclose a relationship, chances are you should. For more information, please watch our video that walks you through the FTC endorsement guidelines for video creators, for marketers and for brands:
Do you have any thoughts on the FTC guidelines? Are you sick of watching creators pass off their content as unbiased when you know they have been paid to push the products they are using? Are you a creator that would welcome more clarity from the FTC? Let us know in the comments below.