FTC cracks down on celeb-backed social media ads

Last week, Kim Kardashian posted an ad on Instagram. Breaking news? Not at all. But what’s unusual is if you look closely, you’ll notice it builds on a previous post promoting the morning sickness drug Diclegis. When she first posted about the medication in 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came after her because it didn’t mention the associated risks. Kardashian apparently learned her lesson, and this time around she listed the side effects and added #ad to the first line.


That’s exactly what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is pushing for. Earlier this month, it sent more than 90 influencers, celebrities, athletes and marketers a refresher on the rules of what they can and cannot do when promoting products on social media. Essentially, influencers are obligated to be transparent about any business or family connections, whether they’re being paid to promote the product and if they were given the product for free.

In the letter sent to these influencers, the FTC said the posts must be labeled as ads within the first three lines of the caption and need to be more clear than simply tagging #sp or #partner or sliding the necessary hashtags in at the end of a long caption where they easily get lost.


From an advertiser’s perspective, there’s a big upside to working with influencers. “Millennials are actively engaged on social media on a daily basis, and it’s a great way to reach thousands of potential customers,” Samantha Wormser, a public relations manager at Power Digital Marketing, told Fox News. Plus, it’s easy. “It takes less time to publish a tweet or Instagram Story than it does to shoot a commercial,” Dee Nuncio, director of social media for Mod Op, told Fox News. And, since fans usually react to social media posts instantly, advertisers get real-time feedback. The influencers get a lot out of it, too. Celebrities with millions of followers can charge upwards of a few hundred thousand dollars for one social post, Wormser said.

The Kardashian clan is notorious for sneakily weaving paid posts into their feeds, but they’re not the only ones. Michael Phelps has posted ambiguously about Beats by Dre, Bella Hadid recently plugged Postmates in a post that’s since been deleted, and Jenny McCarthy’s feed is filled with ads promoting everything from hair extensions to jewelry.


Even if the celebs are upfront about the ad, it’s important for consumers to see the posts for what they are: paid endorsements rather than authentic recommendations. “The problem with promoting many of these products is that false claims are made or exaggerated, and people are taken advantage of because they have not seen the evidence of such claims,” Kim Melton, RD, told Fox News. She said to be especially skeptical of supplements because they’re not regulated by the FDA and can lead to liver damage among other health issues.

Watch out for posts with words like “miracle,” “life changing,” “fast” and “guaranteed,” Tracy Lockwood, RD, founder of Tracy Lockwood Nutrition, told Fox News. “Be dubious if the product seems too good to be true or uses strong and exaggerated adjectives when describing the product.”