#BURNED

All the celebrities the US government had to remind that Instagram product plugs must be transparent

Obsession
Fashion
Obsession
Fashion

Celebrities, fashion bloggers, social-media personalities—they’re all considered influencers on platforms such as Instagram because, as the name suggests, they can hold a good deal of sway over their audiences. Brands selling everything from sneakers to toothpaste routinely hire them to tout their products. But unlike commercials on TV, it’s not always clear on Instagram what’s a paid ad versus someone just talking about a product they like.

That’s a problem, according to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), because endorsements need to be disclosed in compliance with the FTC Act. Last month, the agency sent out more than 90 letters to influencers and brands about Instagram posts that weren’t sufficiently clear on whether they were ads or not. Now WWD has obtained the list (paywall) of everyone who received the FTC’s “educational” letter, and it includes a number of celebrities, such as P. Diddy, Jennifer Lopez, and Heidi Klum, as well as executives at brands including Adidas, Dunkin’ Donuts, Yves Saint Laurent, Puma, and Popeyes.

The FTC has also now published the letters (pdf) themselves. Influencers who got them include:

  • P. Diddy (aka Sean Combs)
  • Heidi Klum
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Sofia Vergara
  • Jen Selter
  • Nicky Jam
  • Shay Mitchell
  • Ciara and Dorothy Wang
  • Luke Bryan
  • Kristin Cavallari
  • Lucy Hale
  • Naomi Campbell
  • Giuliana Rancic
  • Rach Parcell
  • JWoww
  • Jamie Lynn Spears
  • Maci Bookout McKinney
  • Nicole Polizzi
  • Tiona Fernan
  • Amber Rose
  • Vanessa Hudgens
  • Valentina Vignali
  • Lilly Ghallichi
  • Caroline Manzo
  • Allen Iverson
  • Behati Prinsloo
  • Victoria Beckham
  • Chelsea Houska
  • Troian Bellisario
  • Nina Agdal
  • Vanessa Hudgens
  • Emily Ratajkowski
  • Ashley Benson
  • Denice Moberg
  • James Harrison
  • Scott Disick
  • Lindsay Lohan
  • Kourtney Kardashian
  • Zendaya
  • Bella Thorne
  • Sophia Bush
  • Massy Arias
  • Farrah Abraham
  • Lisa Rinna
  • Troian Bellisario
  • Akon (aka Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam)
  • Vanessa Lachey

If the influencer did not receive any payment or get a product for free in exchange for mentioning the product, then the post is perfectly fine. (Many have since been taken down.)

The influencers in some cases may not have disclosed that a post was a paid endorsement, or they might not have made it clear to the FTC’s satisfaction. The FTC doesn’t mandate what language a paid post must use, except to say that any endorsement should be clear, as explained in the published template (pdf) for its letter. One section states:

The FTC’s Endorsement Guides state that if there is a “material connection” between an endorser and the marketer of a product—in other words, a connection that might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement—that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless the connection is already clear from the context of the communication containing the endorsement. Material connections could consist of a business or family relationship, monetary payment, or the provision of free products to the endorser.

It adds that a social-media user shouldn’t have to look for the disclosure. Influencers often use the hashtags #ad, #sponsored, or #promotion to indicate an endorsement, but the FTC says it’s not enough to tack one on at the end of a long caption, or to bury it amid several hashtags. It also specifies that, in long Instagram captions that have to be expanded to be read in their entirety, the disclosure should appear above the “more” button.

The punishments for violating these rules aren’t terribly severe. If the FTC pursued legal action, it could require the influencers to surrender payments they received.

The worst penalty, though, might be losing face—and some of that all-important influence.

This story has been updated to clarify that the FTC describes these as “educational” letters and includes the link to the published letters.

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