The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is launching the crackdown.
“We’ve been interested in deceptive endorsements for decades and this is a new way in which they are appearing,” Michael Ostheimer, a deputy in the FTC’s Ad Practices Division, told Bloomberg in an interview.
The Kardashians may be the biggest offenders, but they are far from alone among so-called “influencers.” They could include anyone with a large social media following.
Companies, paying as much as six-figures for celebrities and others to tout their products on social media outlets, have been the first to get slapped.
Since I started QuickTrim again a few weeks ago, I'm down 6 lbs!!! Yay best feeling. I was getting discouraged but now I'm so motivated!
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) October 3, 2012
U can get Quick Trim now https://tinyurl.com/nqbjuq It works! Check out my twitpics! I lost my last 6 lbs fast & toned up! Loving QUICK TRIM
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) September 11, 2009
Warner Brothers Home Entertainment was sanctioned for paying influencers to promote its “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor,” video game. Retailer Lord & Taylor was also hit for paying to have dresses promoted online.
So far, the FTC has yet to take action against a celebrity, despite often blatant shilling on social media.
Kim Kardashian, who promoted a sketchy diet supplement called “QuickTrim” for years, frequently mentioned the product without disclosing her endorsement deal.
“Ok I’ve been really bad with my eating habits again! I was doing soooo good!!!! Gonna start QuickTrim today! Sticking to it!” she wrote in one 2012 Tweet. It’s typical of the product name-dropping that goes on.
The FTC crackdown has been a longtime coming.
Five years ago, dozens of celebrities, including actress Liz Hurley and singer Lily Allen, were the focus of a probe into celebrity endorsements by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading.
The FTC’s only previous action came in Dec. 2009. It began requiring bloggers to reveal paid endorsements. But the guidelines are voluntary and mostly ignored.
Those who comply with the directive typically add the hastag #sp (sponsored product) or #ad to indicated their endorsement is paid.
But often, the disclosures are buried at the end of a string of hashtags. They’re difficult to spot, according to Ostheimer.
“If consumers don’t read the words, then there is no effective disclosure. If you have seven other hashtags at the end of a tweet and it’s mixed up with all these other things, it’s easy for consumers to skip over that. The real test is, did consumers read it and comprehend it?”
Now, the FTC reportedly wants celebrities to put a disclosure at the beginning of the endorsement.
“We believe consumers put stock in endorsements and we want to make sure they are not being deceived,” Ostheimer said.
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