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What You Need To Know About Navigating FTC Guidelines for Advertising

Jesse Ingalls
May 24, 2017
Last Updated On
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The FTC is coming for your sponsored content — so pour one out for burying #ad in a hashtag cloud.

photoshoot set BTS

Miz Bernstein in full compliance mode with a front and center #ad in her caption. The dawning of a new day.
A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out 90+ warning letters to influencers and celebrities. Why? Surprise, surprise: the lucky recipients weren’t clearly indicating if they were being paid by a company to promote a product on Instagram.

First things first, what is the FTC and how do they even have Puff Daddy’s mailing address? They must be really important. Here’s more on the Federal Trade Commission act and its mission, direct from the source:

Working to protect consumers by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices, enhancing informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process, and accomplishing this without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.

What Are the FTC Guidelines for Advertising?

2017 is a very unique time when anyone and everyone can be a media mogul. If you have a smartphone, you have the power to broadcast to the world on the same device you call your mom from. Times are changing and it’s become abundantly clear that the FTC is getting hip to the digital advertising antics that have emerged on Instagram.

Antics? What antics? Don't play coy. If you’re reading this, you know exactly what we’re talking about. While Instagram may not be traditional media, it’s still regulated by the same authority. The reality is that you can no longer treat your affiliate marketing on the 'Gram like the Wild West or international waters. These stern warnings from the FTC prove that the Insta is no longer a self-governed lawless state.

Still, want to play hard and fast with the law? Sample letters were sent out to the above-mentioned influencers, outlining the guides concerning use of endorsements and testimonials in adverting. Also known as, if you endorse a product on an Instagram post, you have to declare it an Ad.

It's a new dawn for Instagram ads by way of influential Instagrammers; let's have a moment of silence to remember the days where hiding an ambiguous #spon inside a cloud of 30 hashtags could still fly under the FTC's radar. As of a few weeks ago, it's now in everyone's best interest to start abiding by the legislation. Fines are not sexy. Ever.

To eschew those pesky penalties, we're going to break down how your native ads on Instagram can comply with the federal trade laws without having to compromise your marketing efforts.

KKW complying with the law. A great way to stay fit. (See what I did there?)

FTC Sponsored Content

How has it come to this? That’s a great question, if I do say so myself 💁.

When Instagram first launched, users got to dictate how things worked. The app was initially conceived to tell stories with photos and to give photography enthusiasts the ability to connect — a simple format with innovative filters to share your creativity with your friends and the world.

Millions of apps have been developed, but very few of them reach daily usage ubiquity like Instagram has. The platform grew up in the spotlight, and through it all, created an entire industry yielding its very own ecosystem. It brought on new sets of rules to comply with. Or to work around, depending on who you ask.

For as long as rules have existed, humans have found ways to break them. So influencers, celebrities and businesses employed the 'Gram to their content ad benefit without giving things a second thought. Hiding #ad or #spon in a hashtag cloud was a very tactical initiative devised to get around the regulations. This was not going to fly with the government.

The truth is, Instagram is growing like wildfire. 100 million new users joined in the last 6 months, and certainly these rookies aren't yet fully versed in the established norms and nuances. If you’re an OG in the game, a sponsored post is as obvious as the difference between McDonald’s and Wendy’s. If you’re a newb, it isn’t.

The crux of the matter is that we’ve come to a head and the FTC isn’t taking it anymore. They’re doing their job, aka protecting consumers.

Instagram Advertising Rules for Sponsored Posts:

The guidelines are dead simple. Just accept them, follow them, and move on.

  1. Use a stand alone #ad or #sponsored in the post's main caption.
  1. Don’t bury your #Ad in a hashtag cloud to camouflage it.
  1. Disclose your affiliation in the first 3 lines of the caption, before the “more” button.
  2. Just own it. #Sponsored is the new black.

We encourage you send the cheat sheet below to the influencers you work with to keep you both out of hot water. If your hired talent follows these 4 simple rules, neither of you will be hearing from the FTC anytime soon. 😎

We Gon' Be Alright

If you find the idea of openly disclosing your native ads scary, you're not alone. The thing is, users will adjust and it's all going to be alright, promise. Take off your marketer pants and throw on your consumer shorts for a quick second. Here are a couple of stats that might alleviate a little bit of anxiety:

People expect to be advertised to on Instagram. In fact, people consciously choose to be advertised to.

It all comes back to the best practices you've learned on this very blog, and it begins with carefully selecting the right influencers to work with. This includes a deep dive to ensure your potential collaborator isn’t doing anything fishy (f4f, Instagress, etc.). Remember that engagement rates are a tell-tale sign of a strong online presence and a trusting audience.

For those who make the cut, their followers won’t necessarily find it off-putting if they're aware that a post is sponsored. They'll instead trust that the promoted brand is probably one that the instagrammer believes in. Rethink of your efforts as collaborative ventures instead of paid advertising. The results will be vastly superior.

Need a real world example? We got you. Insert Internet funny man Trey Kennedy.

@treynkennedy meme

How is this post by Trey Kennedy, any different than this post? It isn’t, and that’s why it's effective. The only difference between the two posts is that Trey mentions HP as a partner in one of them, that is all. Both posts received really high engagement, proving that finding the right influencer and encouraging them to stay in their lane can produce really authentic native content. This will not cripple the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, trust.

Leave a comment below to let us know how you feel about the FTC getting all up in Instagram’s space. Are you confident in your influencer relationships so this new policing won’t curb your online promos? Let us know!

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