The Associated Press reports that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)has warned two trade associations - the American Beverage Association and the Canadian Sugar Institute - and a dozen online "influencers" about paid social media posts in which the compensation was not disclosed.
According to the story, "The warnings follow updated guidelines the agency published this summer requiring influencers to prominently disclose advertisements and paid social media posts that promote products for companies.
The FTC said it reviewed posts by health influencers — including registered dietitians — who endorse 'sugar-containing products' and appear to be paid by the Canadian Sugar Institute.
"Meanwhile, the agency warned the American Beverage Association about posts that tout the safety of aspartame, a sweetener found in diet soda and countless other foods. In July, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency deemed the sweetener could be a possible cause of cancer, though other experts assembled by the health organization have said aspartame is safe to consume in small quantities."
While the American Beverage Association maintained that it took “meticulous steps” to adhere to the rules, the FTC said that "some of the posts it reviewed had no disclosures. Others had disclosures in the text description of the videos, but not in the videos themselves."
The Canadian Sugar Institute has not commented about the warnings.
- KC's View:
It is a reasonable bet that the trade associations made the decision to see how far they could push against the regulations before being cited.
In the Washington Post story, it is reported that "the enforcement action is the first the FTC has taken against major food and beverage industry groups for social media marketing. The agency urged the trade groups and nutrition influencers to remove posts or add proper disclosures and noted that future failures could trigger fines of more than $50,000 for each violation.
"The … investigation revealed that American Beverage had paid a dozen nutrition influencers for videos that sought to undermine health warnings from the World Health Organization about aspartame, an artificial sweetener in many diet sodas. The investigation also found that the Canadian Sugar Institute paid at least a dozen dietitians for videos that encouraged people to give in to cravings for sugary foods, mocked advice to cut sugar intake, and urged parents to let children eat as much candy as they want.
"In both cases many of the influencers used phrases like #ad, #sponsored or 'Paid partnership' in the text accompanying their videos, but didn’t clearly name which organizations had paid them for the videos."
No excuse for that.
I say this because it isn't hard for trade associations - or companies - to lay out to the "influencers" how transparent they need to be about the payments, and even suggest that if they don't adhere to the rules, they won't get paid.
I also say this because I have some experience with this - I have paying sponsors, and occasionally their businesses come up in stories. And I make that point with a note that always starts with the words "Full Disclosure."
It ain't hard. You just have to decide to do the right thing.