In the time that since the Federal Trade Commission released new guidelines regarding celebrity endorsement and disclosure, there’s been much discussion about the implications of making the practice more responsible. As of tomorrow, the talk will be backed up by some form of action, though the FTC seems to find their new found chores brackish.
As we discovered, some social media programs may be unabated by the rules. From tennis star Serena Williams’ neglectful tweet to Melanie Notkin, a blogger better known as Savvy Auntie who published a number of undisclosed tweets (see update below) about JCPenney over the weekend. The clothier pays Notkin for placements like this.
The FTC has made it clear that they’ve yet to reprimand a celebrity or other notable figure for failing to disclose, saying that they’d focus on the sponsor instead. In regards to Williams, they said “Although we do not generally comment publicly about ongoing advertising campaigns, it seems pretty clear that Serena Williams’ tweet about Nabisco Calorie Pack is sponsored advertising. (She says that she is shooting a campaign for Nabisco),” said Richard Cleland, Assistant Director, of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices. “When it is clear from the context of a communication that the celebrity is being paid, an additional disclosure is not required.”
It’s but one example of how complicated the problem may become. In Williams’ case, she initially tweeted that she and sister Venus were sponsored by Nabisco. But in a subsequent tweet, there was no disclosure. The FTC did not provide clarification.
Update: Notkin commented that we were unfair to state that she “published a number of undisclosed tweets about JCPenney over the weekend” — calling that phrase untrue. Here’s a list of Tweets referring to her sponsor that weren’t disclosed. (1: in a previous tweet she told people they could buy this product at JCP, 2: an article discussing JCP’s sale notices on Twitter; 3: she discusses a video she hosted for JCP).
We’re not here to say she was wrong. Read her comment below. The point is that this is not, as Notkin mentions, a perfect science. It’s a can of worms the FTC may not have been prepared to open. Was Notkin wrong to say “The Kodak Zi8 is pretty amazing” without disclosing even though she did in a previous Tweet? It depends on who is reading it: if a person follows her every Tweet, no harm done. But there’s no guarantee of that, which is where the problems begin. Other than a few minor slip-ups (if you can call them that) Notkin’s efforts have been, as she put it, 95% transparent.