When too much control can lead to trouble with the FTC

When too much control can lead to trouble with the FTC
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One of the most common questions I get from clients who are new to influencer marketing is, "How much control can I have over the content?" The short answer to this question is, "not a lot unless you want the FTC to come after you."

Advertisers must walk a thin line when it comes to influencer marketing. Yes, they have a brand reputation to maintain. But, when engaging with influencers, advertisers are paying for the influencer's opinions, not the brand's. With the recent news about the FTC cracking down, it's important to clarify a few things as it relates to "control" for advertisers working with influencers.

No room for control with "All opinions are my own."
The FTC requires that product endorsements, "reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser". 16 CFR Part 255.1 (a). Influencers state this in their disclosure, "I was compensated for this. All opinions are my own."

But more and more brands are dictating actual wording for influencers to incorporate into their content, which contradicts the authenticity of an influencer's content. It doesn't match the influencer's voice and sticks out like a sore thumb. Not to mention that prescribing content violates the disclosure statement. FTC guidelines clearly state the endorsement may not be "reworded so as to distort in any way the endorser's opinion or experience with the product." US FTC 16 CFR Part 255.1 (b).

Advertisers can control for accuracy through fact checking and product education.

However, there are elements of a sponsored post where an advertiser can exercise control. Advertisers often request the full name of the brand be used in the post repeatedly. In this case, brands can dictate how the influencer spells it, capitalizes it, etc. While advertisers shouldn't dictate exact verbiage, they can, and are encouraged to, educate influencers on the product. Influencers, after all, strive to be honest and what better way to learn about a product than directly from the brand? Advertisers can modify the language of sponsored content to ensure the product is accurately described, but must ensure the influencer's opinions aren't altered.

Think of influencer content in subjective and objective terms. Subjective terms are the influencer's opinions based on experience with the product/brand. Objective terms are anything factual about the product's objective characteristics and efficacy. Advertisers have control over the objective material and give license to the influencer to reword it, but not to where it misleads any audience with unsubstantiated claims.

Influencer Marketing is here to stay and so is the FTC. Influencers must be authentic storytellers and disclose their sponsorship, while the advertisers must ensure all FTC guidelines are fulfilled and the objective portion of the sponsored content is correct and factual. For more information on this particular topic check out KutakRock's paper, "Can Advertisers Edit Influencer Content?"

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