(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Timothy Geigner


Filed Under:
ads, advertising, disclosure, espn, ftc

Companies:
espn



ESPN Employees Keep Failing To Disclose Their Advertising Tweets As Advertising

from the paging-the-ftc dept

Several weeks back, the FTC posted some guidelines on how it expects disclosures to be used in native advertising campaigns. The short of it is that advertising campaigns should come with some kind of prominent disclosure, one easily read and understood by the public. Specifically regarding online content, the FTC guide states:

The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits deceptive or unfair practices. It’s the FTC’s job to ensure that long-standing consumer protection principles apply in the digital marketplace, including to native advertising. The FTC has issued an Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements that explains how the agency applies established truth-in-advertising standards in this context. This Guide for Businesses supplements the Enforcement Policy Statement by offering informal guidance from FTC staff to help companies apply the Policy Statement in day-to-day contexts in digital media.
And it goes on to discuss more specifically about the manner in which disclosures should be included in campaigns:
Disclosures that are necessary to avoid misleading consumers must be presented clearly and prominently. Whether a disclosure of a native ad’s commercial nature meets this standard will be measured by its performance – that is, do consumers recognize the native ad as an ad? Only disclosures that consumers notice, process, and understand can be effective. Inadequate disclosures can’t change the net impression created and won’t stop consumers from being deceived that advertising or promotional messages are something other than ads.
After that section comes the criteria by which disclosures shall be deemed adequate for the purposes of informing the consuming public that they are viewing a form of advertisement. That criteria appears to be of little use to several ESPN employees, however, who have decided to simply omit any disclosure in several Twitter-related advertising partnerships that may or may not be official campaigns between ESPN and the brands being advertised. This all started with tweets from Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, both of whom are NFL reporters for ESPN, tweeting out blatant native advertising for Domino's Pizza.


As of this writing, those two tweets remain in their original form, but in case they disappear, here are some screenshots:


When Deadspin contacted ESPN to ask what was up with the lack of disclosure, the sports network responded saying that the lack of disclosure was an error, as the tweets were part of a marketing campaign partnership between ESPN and Domino's.
ESPN says this is all a mistake and that future tweets associated with Domino’s ad buy with the network will be compliant with federal law. Which is fine, though we’re still skeptical that New Year’s Eve means either college football or pizza—and so were the millions of fans who didn’t tune in for this year’s college football playoff games.
That exchange occurred on January fifth. ESPN had been made aware of its "error." Exactly one day later, another ESPN reporter was tweeting out blatant advertising for Buick, sans any disclosure that it was advertising.
ESPN told us yesterday that tweets from NFL reporters Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen in which they implausibly expressed strong desires to spend New Year’s Eve eating Domino’s pizza were improperly not labeled as ads, and that in the future all promotional tweets from ESPNers would be properly labeled. Today, an ESPN reporter did it again. This afternoon, college football reporter Kaylee Hartun tweeted some junk about Buick:

"If you’re in Phoenix for #CFBPlayoff, look for me at the @Buick tent. #ThatsABuick"
That tweet, unlike the other two, was deleted when people began asking, again, why there was no disclosure. It was replaced with a nearly identical tweet with an added "#ad" hashtag. Hartung had also reportedly tweeted out several more times in the past about Buick, also without a disclosure that the tweets were a form of advertising. It seems ESPN and its employees are playing very loose with FTC rules, which may not end well.
This isn’t just some hoary ethics sermon. Three years ago the Federal Trade Commission released its .com Disclosures to offer guidance for how ads online should be labeled to avoid running afoul of the law. And as they note, the FTC Act’s prohibition of “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” doesn’t make an exception for the internet. The FTC has popped Deutsch LA and Kim Kardashian, among others, for deceptive tweets.
There's nothing wrong with native advertising, but for one of the largest sports broadcasters on the planet to be actively attempting to deceive the public is shameful. Especially when there's enough of a legal team at ESPN that they absolutely know better. These types of ad campaigns could be the way of the future, but not if companies kill it all off by training the public to suspect deception at every turn.


Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2016 @ 1:08pm

    eh?

    Seems like a big todo over not much. I don't see big notices for product placement often, and this feels a lot like it.

    Hard to see the harm in this case

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nate (profile), 8 Jan 2016 @ 1:17pm

      Re: eh?

      Are you talking about product placement in a tv show or in a news article?

      If you mean the latter, that lack of a notice is a violation of FTC guidelines.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        klaus (profile), 13 Jan 2016 @ 2:09am

        News articles?

        "There’s nothing better on NYE than some football and @Dominos #HomeOnNYE"

        "New Years Eve means college football and @Dominos pizza."

        I get that these are ESPN reporters, tweeting under their corporate umbrella, but it's a stretch to call these news articles. Yes these are wholesale ads, but Twitter doesn't have the equivalent of the "ad break", and using #Ad just seems clunky and ill conceived somehow.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 8 Jan 2016 @ 1:42pm

    Overly Burdensome Regulations

    If ESPN is forced to disclose financial entanglements between what it broadcasts and the sports it covers then there would not be much time left for sports. ESPN has provided some good reporting, but it falls far short of the other broadcasting efforts. The success of ESPN is closely entwined with the sports it covers. They have a vested interest in making sports and players look good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    That One Other Not So Random Guy, 8 Jan 2016 @ 1:44pm

    Someone pays money for stupid tweets that are obviously fake? Does anyone actually believe Chris or Adam REALLY were going to eat the cardboard Domino's calls pizza?
    I guess a sucker is born every minute.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 8 Jan 2016 @ 2:10pm

      Re:

      And it's right here where I assert the dominance of the Chicago pizza market, to be followed up with Mike swooping in to say "something, something, New York is the best."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        That One Other Not So Random Guy, 8 Jan 2016 @ 2:46pm

        Re: Re:

        4 years ago Sept 9... I was in NY for work and had my first NY Pizza. I have to say it was on the top of the all-time best pizza list. I told the guy I was from Philly and was looking forward to testing this NY pizza myth. Well he pulls me back in the kitchen letting me try all different kinds of cheeses and bragged (rightly so) about his dough being made fresh and being a family recipe. It was a great experience and for the rest of the week I was there I had pizza every day. I forget the name of the place but I have pictures at home of it. Maybe someday Ill get to go to Chicago. Take a 50 state Pizza tour. LOL.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 8 Jan 2016 @ 3:34pm

      Re:

      Someone pays money for stupid tweets that are obviously fake?

      Holy crap, what a shitty job that would be. Just imagine having to look at yourself in the mirror every morning when that's what you're going to be doing all day. What a pointless existence. I'm sure Douglas Adams would've put them on the same boat as the telephone sanitizers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2016 @ 5:13am

    The question is do the FTC guidelines apply to everyone, including ESPN and other entrenched players, or do they only apply to certain people/groups (surely they will apply to Google though).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2016 @ 5:15am

      Re:

      (imagine how badly the FTC would come down on Google if Google was even suspected of remotely bending their guidelines. I would expect the FTC to give ESPN the same exact treatment ...).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 3:08am

    There's nothing wrong with native advertising, but for one of the largest sports broadcasters on the planet to be actively attempting to deceive the public is shameful.
    No, what's shameful is anyone in the public who didn't see these tweets as advertising and disclosure wouldn't help with this level of stupidity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 1:57pm

    No, what's shameful is anyone in the public who didn't see these tweets as advertising ...

    Very true, so why's the FCC feel the need enforce this? Oh, because the law is the law in "meatspace" and in "cyberspace." Maybe the law's an ass, and the FCC should get a grip and bug out. The net is a different thing from the real world we walk around in, and enforcing laws against jaywalking on the net is silly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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