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FTC Guidelines for Gifted Products You Should Know
As the FTC updates its rules for influencers, brands need to know which guidelines to stick to when gifting products. This post breaks it all down.
Sending gifted products to influencers is a proven way to build brand awareness.
But running a gifting campaign DIY right means sticking to specific rules regarding disclosures.
The Federal Trade Commission regularly rolls out new regulations for influencers. Thing is, it's up to brands to keep creators in the loop.
For example, influencers who are new gifting campaigns might be wondering:
- "Do I still need to disclose if a product was gifted?"
- "Is using #ad good enough?"
- "Is there a difference between disclosures for videos and photo posts?"
Trust us: you shouldn't assume that your creators know the answers, either.
This is especially true as most gifting campaigns don't involve a formal contract. You don't want to accidentally ignore the FTC's rules, right? We didn't think so!
Below is a simplified breakdown of gifted post guidelines that brands need to know.
Do Partnerships Have to Be Disclosed Even If There Was No Financial Compensation?
Yes. Although gifted products are "free," disclosures are expected.
“If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship ‘material connection’ with the brand.”
Translation? In the eyes of the FTC, influencer gifting and paid collaborations aren't all that different. Both must be disclosed to followers in plain English.
Do I Need to Ask Influencers to Disclose Information Upfront?
The FTC's Endorsement Guide states that brands and influencers bear the responsibility of making disclosures happen.
Sure, you can't control word-for-word what an influencer says.
But you can stay compliant by setting the right expectations.
When in doubt, disclosures should be crystal clear. The FTC's advice is to make sure that people "see and understand" any disclosure.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to disclosures. That said, "clearly" communicating a partnership typically involves influencers...
- Disclosing their relationship with the brand at the beginning of their post
- Ex: "I was gifted this product..."
- Ex: "I'd like to thank @brand for sending me this..."
- Using hashtags like #gifted, #ad or #sponsored (and not hiding them)
- Explicitly stating (via caption and/or video) that they've received a free product in exchange for a review
The idea here is simple: there should be no doubt as to whether a post is sponsored or not.
The good news is that gifted product posts don't have to be "salesy" or "boring." Check out our list of influencer gifting examples for inspiration.
What Else Does the FTC’s Endorsement Guide Recommend?
When an influencer promotes your gifted product, it’s up to you to establish guidelines with them.
This highlights a big benefit of using Statusphere and working with our creator network. Our influencers understand industry best practices and likewise have clear instructions to avoid any potential issues. Beyond that, our quality control process helps prevent FTC violations.
Again, skilled creators know how to play by the rules and show off your products in action.
Below are three best practices for gifted product posts according to the FTC. To help illustrate, we've coupled each rule with a real-life disclosure example.
Listen: hiding a partnership from your audience is a bad look.
If a business gifts a product with the expectation that an influencer will promote it, there needs to be a disclosure. The idea here is that audiences will view posts differently if they know there's a partnership.
Transparent disclosures mean that no one feels deceived. Trust us: honesty is the best policy.
Use Clear Language
The FTC recommends avoiding abbreviated phrases like "spon” or "collab" (instead of "sponsored" or "collaboration"). This can be sort of a gray area but again, it's better to play it safe.
Instagram makes it simple to disclose gifted products with the platform's branded content tools. This includes the "Paid partnership" label you probably see all the time.
Still, these labels aren't the be-all, end-all of a compliant disclosure. Hashtags like #ad, #sponsored and #gifted should still be included in posts.
Be Upfront About Affiliate Links
If you gift a product to an influencer in exchange for their own affiliate link, they must be clear about it. This is as simple as including something in a caption like: “FYI, I get a small percentage of the proceeds when you use my code!”
Being upfront about brand-influencer relationships helps your recommendations stay honest. Likewise, it makes the audience value influencer’s words even more.
Are There Specific FTC Guidelines for Video Content?
Note: some of the following rules predate both TikTok and Instagram Reels.
In 2019, the FTC shared a "Disclosures 101" for influencers with guidelines for video content.
Summary? Disclosures should be made in both video and audio formats.
Viewers are more likely to acknowledge sponsored content when it's seen and heard. Through this sort of double disclosure, distinguishing gifted and organic posts should be straightforward.
Hiding the disclosure in a video description doesn’t cut it in this case. After all, some viewers may just watch the video without reading the description. This is especially true given the rise of TikTok and Reels.
The FTC also doesn't consider overlay text to be a proper disclosure. For example, you couldn't hide a microscopic "#ad" text in the corner of your video and be compliant.
In terms of sponsored content on YouTube, the platform is in line with the FTC. Disclosures should be present not only in a video's description but spoken and mentioned on-screen.
Thankfully, YouTube makes it easy for creators to disclose sponsorships. When uploading a video, you have the option to mark your content as promotional. Then, YouTube will feature a "Includes paid promotion" disclosure in the first ten seconds of your video. Check out the example below.
As you can see, this disclosure isn't distracting or in-your-face. Beyond the label, you'll notice that many YouTube creators will also disclose partnerships...
- In the video's description
- Verbally (and almost always as part of the video's introduction)
- In the video's pinned comment (see below)
According to YouTube's paid promotion guidelines:
Do Instagram and TikTok Have Different Rules for Gifted Products?
Not really! The major social platforms adhere to the FTC’s guidelines.
Gifted posts are considered“branded content” on both Instagram and TikTok. As a result, these posts require the same disclosures we talked about earlier.
According to Instagram themselves, brands should “clearly” disclose gifted partnerships. Beyond a #gifted tag, many creators will mention that they were gifted a product in their video narration. TikTok's branded content policy is more or less the same.
How to Get Products into Influencers' Hands Without Second-Guessing the Rules
The more influencer marketing grows, the more important it is for your brand to stay compliant.
Brands obviously want to avoid potential fines and legal trouble. Knowing these best practices protects your brand's reputation, simple as. You should ideally work with influencers that already understand these rules and stick to the best practices of the FTC.
And the more creators you partner with, the higher the stakes are.
If you need a scalable way to get more influencer content without second-guessing the rules or stressing about FTC guidelines, Statusphere can help.
Our micro-influencer software matches brands with vetted influencers from our creator community. Unlike other platforms, we guarantee a specific volume of content for our brands long-term. Our influencers likewise understand the best practices above.
Statusphere eliminates the most time-consuming pieces of working with influencers in-house thanks to our advanced matchmaking and fulfillment technology. We’ve already generated 75,000+ pieces of content for 400+ consumer brands.
Want to see how our platform works? Get in touch with one of our experts to learn how we can optimize your brand’s marketing efforts with guaranteed content at scale.
Disclaimer: We're influencer marketing specialists, not lawyers ourselves! This content is not legal advice and you should definitely consult a legal professional based on your needs and questions. We do not make any guarantees as to the accuracy or completeness of this information and take no liability or legal obligations for your use of this information.
This article was first published in April 2020. It was last updated October 3, 2022.