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.
New Years Eve means college football and @Dominos pizza.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 31, 2015
As of this writing, those two tweets remain in their original form, but in case they disappear, here are some screenshots:
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: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.
"If you’re in Phoenix for #CFBPlayoff, look for me at the @Buick tent. #ThatsABuick"
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.