FTC Threatens to Give Bieber a Spanking

Most 19-year-olds don’t get a chance to visit outer space, leave their pet monkeys stranded in Germany or cruise the California highways in a leopard print Audi 8 at speeds high enough to draw warnings from local cops and former NFL players.

In some ways, however, Justin Bieber is just like every other American boy; he loves his mommy enough to buy her flowers every Mother’s Day. More specifically, he loves 1-800-Flowers, and he wants his 40 million Twitter followers to know all about it.

No one should be surprised to learn that Bieber has a contract with 1-800-Flowers, but you won’t see any mention of that fact in his promotional tweets. The Biebs is only the most prominent of a slew of celebrities endorsing brands on Twitter and other social media forums with no disclaimers in sight. Kim Kardashian, for example, often makes five figures for a single branded tweet but never discloses her relationships with her sponsors.

That might change soon if the FTC has its way.

The organization, which is usually about as up-to-date on social media trends as that distant cousin who lives in the woods with an anti-government militia and subsists on squirrel meat and crystal meth, wants to know a little more about the practice.

In March they laid down the law and insisted that celebs include the “#ad” hashtag in paid tweets or face fines; everyone’s favorite leather onesie aficionado has yet to comply. The question: Should PR pros debate the ethics of paying stars to tweet undisclosed endorsements of clients’ products?

Lori Russo, Managing Director at Stanton Communications, weighs in:

It is widely understood that celebrities who publicly promote a brand or product in a Tweet, Facebook status update, Instagram photo or other social post are most likely being paid or receiving some sort of consideration for the endorsement. The newly-updated Federal Trade Commission .com disclosure rules may require marketers to work a little harder, but consider the consequences. An FTC investigation and potential financial penalties could be far more costly for a brand than the promotion itself…I don’t think consumers will bat an eye at an “#ad” disclosure in a Tweet.

Is tweeting undisclosed promotions so different from taking money to wear a designer’s dress to the Academy Awards? Will the FTC make good on its threat to fine our favorite pop stars for leaving the word “ad” out of those tweets?

And does anyone care?