The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warnings to multiple social media influencers and two trade associations for their endorsements regarding the disclosure of aspartame, an artificial sweetener, and the promotion of sugar-containing products. The warnings come as the FTC suspects violations of its rules due to inadequate disclosure of connections between endorsers and advertisers.
Clear Disclosure is Crucial
The FTC emphasised that any disclosure regarding paid promotions or relationships between endorsers and businesses must be easily noticeable to consumers. This includes both audible and visible disclosures in videos and text descriptions in the form of captions on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, criticised the practice, stating it’s irresponsible for trade groups to engage influencers without ensuring transparent disclosures, especially when health and safety claims are involved.
Lack of Clear Disclosures
None of the posts targeted by the FTC had proper disclosures, some even entirely omitting any indication of their affiliation with the beverage association. The FTC highlighted instances where disclosures like “#sponsored” or “#ad” were buried deep in post descriptions, making them unclear, especially as users often do not click to view full descriptions.
It named several influencers, including dietitians, who had posted content related to aspartame safety or sugar products without clear disclosures. These influencers, with follower counts ranging from thousands to over a million, are now facing scrutiny for their endorsements.
Some influencers, like Cara Harbstreet, acknowledged the need for transparent disclosure and compliance with FTC guidelines. However, others named in the warning letters have not responded yet. Similarly, the Canadian Sugar Institute and American Beverage Association offered no immediate comment on the ongoinging controversy.
Timeframe for Compliance
The associations and influencers involved could face civil penalties of up to $50,120 per violation. They have been given 15 working days to address the FTC’s concerns and disclose their actions or plans to rectify the situation.
The FTC’s warnings emphasise the importance of transparent disclosures in endorsements, particularly in health-related products and content. As social media continues to influence consumer choices, regulators aim to ensure that endorsements are clear, honest, and not misleading.