FTC Warns Influencers 'Any Compensation, Including Free Products, Should Be Disclosed' With Any Social Media Posts

FTC Warns Influencers 'Any Compensation, Including Free Products, Should Be Disclosed' With Any Social Media Posts

The FTC seems to be continuing its watchful eye on sponsored posts via social media as influencers and celebrities get paid to post about their favorite brands. So beware if you are one that is taking products or collaborating with a brand as an ambassador, or simply as a partner. As photographers, many of us bring on relationships with companies and camera brands without knowing the rules fully. Not disclosing these partnerships can result in fines from the FTC. 

Marketing the last few years has advanced past television commercials and radio ads and been adapted to the hands of teens and 20 something's across the world. The way we do that is simple, social media. According to Captiv8 over $255 million is spent on influencer marketing every single month on Instagram alone. That is simply paid sponsorships, not including products given out for free in exchange for posts. 

Over the last few years I have easily taken product from brands in exchange for a post, and it's usually with a brand I already had a project booked with, which made things very easy to get myself in the door for more work. I was able to offer a bit extra in photoshoots over the other photographer. All because I was willing to post about it on social media. The biggest takeaway and change is that the FTC is looking to tighten its grasp on product for posts vs only paid sponsorships like before. So beware as you might be working with a brand on a separate shoot, getting gear for free and posting about it on Instagram might bring a fine. Another big update that changed was the fact that using verbiage like #ad, #sp, #sponsored are not enough and the FTC is looking for a more clear description.

Here is an example on a post I recently did with Amazon in which I clearly told a story about my collaboration. This gives a bit more context into what I am doing without having to ad silly tags like #sp and gives more meat to my posts. 

​What do you guys think? Is the change going a bit too far? Will they even be able to traffic this type of thing with product based posts? Either way, I am very careful what I post on social as I have heard of fines ranging from $100-$250 from other photographers in the past that did not disclose the correct intentions of their collaboration. 

To see the full list of changes and rules be sure to read them here

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36 Comments

Chris Himstedt's picture

Hmmm.....George Orwell lives on. Next, they'll try to tax us on goods received/exchanged.

Rob Mynard's picture

Haha I'm no tax expert but I'm pretty sure that you're already legally required to declare any goods received for review or as payment, as income and be taxed against it's market value accordingly. I think that's what Capital Gains Tax is all about.

Rob Mynard's picture

@the_gris have you ever been advised of a need to declare any of the "gifts" you receive?

Andrew Griswold's picture

Never have actually. I have claimed a few because they were just too large of an item to not claim.

Justin Haugen's picture

They better not be operating in some vague generality. The terms better be clear on how to function in this space.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

as my old high school history teacher Mr, Finney used to say in his deep voice "Who are THEY?"
Do you mean the FTC or the influencer, shill, spokes-hole, social media playa?

Justin Haugen's picture

all of the above

Andrew Griswold's picture

It's really odd because its SUPER vague in the rules. I have added a link in the article which is here https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsemen... but yea its super vague and its a few places it contradicts itself.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I hope that most of us can see when shills are hawking the clients wares. Some do it stealthily and some are open about it but posting a link about where to buy.
it's all about the money. that's why instagram is valued at $35B, the "influencers" are trying to get the people to cough up some likes or dollars by mentioning a product.

M L's picture

I'm really over it with sponsored posts, and all this brand ambassador crap. Everything is a veiled advertisement. I dislike it more with sites like fstoppers where you would hope to get some objectivity but so many articles are just ways to show product and get the writers paid.

ThatsWhat WasSaid's picture

So, basically, #paidpost will just be buried amongst the wall of hash tags.

Percy Ortiz's picture

whats the FTC?

Percy Ortiz's picture

BAHAHAHA! awesome!! do you have to pay for that animation? how can i get it so i can post it every time an numnut don't use google?

Simon Patterson's picture

Percy Ortiz, you're right, that key piece of information is missing from the article.

Phil Newton's picture

I do love a good marketing scam! I remember when hot chicks would approach guys in nightclubs to talk about this 'amazing' product they just purchased. (Was that called ghost marketing or was that something else??) That got canned here in Australia. I know here you are also supposed to declare free stuff in exchange for payment (look at all the people doing cash jobs and not putting it through the books to keep their taxable income lower). Can't blame people for trying to sidestep the taxman.

Simon Patterson's picture

What prompted this article? There is no link, quote or mention of anything particular actually from the FTC.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Ha, would help if I linked back to the updated rules. I added it to the bottom of the article. The quote in the title is from this page.

Simon Patterson's picture

Excellent, thank you!

Prefers Film's picture

Over 700 of the 1800+ articles on my site are product reviews. That's a lot of free gear. And we've made sure to mention when it was provided to us, as that could be a lot of fines. Don't fall into that trap.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Do you keep the stuff that you review, Prefer Film? Is the IRS interested in that? And if you you do get to keep a lot of free stuff then impartiality becomes an issue fro the reader...

Prefers Film's picture

There have been a handful of items we've had to return. Oddly, one company will send a $600 item to keep, another will ask for their $100 item back. There is no logic to it.

I've never heard of the IRS pursuing this sort of thing.

In the past ten years, I think I have been questioned twice about being impartial. My reviews stick to facts, and every opinion is accompanied by a "here's why" comment. I don't say I like it, I explain why.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I am not familiar with your reviews, but I know a few writer/photographers who will decide they want something so they get it to review for their blog and end up keeping it. So it is a gift to the reviewer, I am surprised that the IRS would not consider it to be income.

As opposed to "reviewers' do the "influencers" acknowledge their relationship with manufacturers?

Jim Cutler's picture

A good Disclosure law is good for this reason: There was one particular photographer who got a ton of free equipment from XXXX and made YouTube videos about "why he dumped Nikon for XXXX". He then continued to get the new bodies and lenses after this. I was interested in his reasons and as a Nikon shooter I added a couple of XXXX bodies and 3 lenses. I do like the XXXX stuff for somethings, but finding out later that he didn't originally disclose all the FREE gear bothered me....even if he truly felt XXXX was better. That's just me. You may not be bothered by it. I think it's better to know if someone was compensated for posting videos on YouTube about " why I dumped Nikon to switch to XXXXX".

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Does XXXX = Sony? Does the "influencer" always wear a hat?

Jim Cutler's picture

I made one of the XXXX have 5 letters just to not point at the person directly. I never want to cause trouble for anyone. It is what it is.

Jim Cutler's picture

Andrew, nice backpack in the lead photo. Which is that? (not kidding). Thanks.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Ha, thanks! Its the Incase Pro DSLR Pack. I have always been a fan of Incase and I have a few of their bags. one of them being my main carry around bag in the dslr sling pack. Check out the review Sean did on the pro pack here https://fstoppers.com/originals/fstoppers-reviews-incase-dslr-pro-one-ca...

Jeff McCollough's picture

What a drag. More laws for us to have to keep track of. We might as well all go to law school just to learn all the laws lol.

Stephen Fretz's picture

"XXX company wanted me to review their new thingamajob so badly they gave me one."

ETA: I've gotten exactly one free thing from a manufacturer in my entire career. It was from Kiev USA, of all places, and it was acknowledged in the flyer for the exhibit.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

In most cases I would just prefer good old cash, ya know like payola.

Stephen Fretz's picture

Me too, but it was the Kiev camera's US distributors. I'm lucky they didn't give it to me as two tons of potatoes ;-)

Prefers Film's picture

I thought of this comment today, as I opened a box containing a beer growler. There was a note from the PR company explaining that they were including $15 cash, so I could have it filled at their expense on my next visit to our local brew pub.

Brian Carpenter's picture

Removed comment because I thought I was posting a new comment and not replying to a thread.

Brian Carpenter's picture

Thanks for posting this article.

When I was shooting actively (I'm no longer shooting or posting actively), I received a product from a company to provide marketing images to them and take BTS shots of the product to post to social media. Never did the company's marketing executive educate me of the rules. Since I was only 2 years into my photography, I was still ignorant to the topic/laws. I agreed and posted images and provided images to them after receiving the product for free.

I will go back to those posts and adjust the post descriptions or just delete them.

I have to admit, I feel slimy and stupid for doing it without looking into the legalize of what they were asking me to do. I'm sure there are other budding photogs on social media who fall into the same trap and also haven't disclosed just because they are not well educated in marketing rules.