Influencers and brands are not afraid of FTC pushback

When influencers and renegade brands won't stop flouting the FTC's paid post guidelines, it's time for the government to rethink its approach.

"Instagram wants influencers to clearly label their paid posts." "Why those FTC blogger requirements aren’t working."

Is anyone else feeling a sense of déjà vu? The times may have changed, but the headlines have not.

Since the Federal Trade Commission issued guidance on social media endorsements in 2013, media ranging from The Washington Post to Refinery29 have produced dozens of stories about the FTC’s attempts to regulate paid brand engagement with social influencers.  

Although the FTC has been consistent that influencers should disclose their relationships to brands when being compensated to promote products on social media, enforcement has been less precise. With only a few exceptions, cases with strong penalties brought against brands and influencers violating disclosure guidelines have been scarce.

In the latest round of notices given to companies including Chanel and high-profile social influencers such as Kourtney Kardashian, the FTC issued notifications with few other negative consequences. If the issue of transparency in social influencer marketing is truly important, the educational approach and threats of real action hasn’t deterred campaigns from flouting the rules.

When agencies and brands navigate the complex network of influencers and teams that have sprung up to manage their content, it’s not uncommon for the ad campaigns to total six figures in expenditures. Is the approach of guidance on disclosure really enough of an incentive to change when so much money is on the line?

The FTC is constrained in its ability to seek civil penalties in a first violation of the FTC Act. For stronger measures to have an impact, the FTC needs to examine why brands and influencers are so reluctant to add #ad or #sponsored to posts.  

The FTC’s goal of ensuring that products and services are described truthfully online is admirable, but it may be time for it to concede the social space has evolved too much to truly regulate it, unless it’s willing to take a real stand when influencers and brands break the rules.

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