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The FTC and Beyond: Ad Disclosure Rules Around the World

There are clear ad disclosure rules that brands and content creators must follow. 

Trust forms the bedrock of the creator-audience relationship. When a blog post, social post, podcast, video, or any other form of media is an authentic opinion piece, it holds more value than a straightforward paid advertisement.

This fact is not lost on advertisers or content creators.

90% of people skip or ignore ads — be they video ads before content or display ads within content. Sponsoring creator content is one way advertisers can tap into the authenticity and value of organic content. Nothing wrong with that! However, if the fact that the content was sponsored is not disclosed… well, there’s something wrong with that.

Aside from eroding trust, failing to disclose sponsored content can land both creators and advertisers in hot water.

In the United States of America, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has clear-cut rules and guidance for both online creators and the brands they work with when it comes to sponsored content. 

This video does a great job of summing up why non-disclosure (in this case, on TikTok specifically) is such an unethical practice for content creators and influencers:

@bee.better.company Influencers really need to stop hiding their brand deals it’s getting to a point of actual embarrassment and you’re causing long term damage to your personal brand and the entire industry. #marketing #marketing101 #downfall #beebetter #haleybaylee #haleykalil #haleyybaylee #mba #business #influencers #darkmarketing #tiktok #longvideo #videoessay #rant #stitch #expose ♬ original sound - Bee better

Consumers Protection Laws Around the World: Disclosing Ads on Social Media

If you are a creator and you receive consideration (payment, products, services etc.) in exchange for sharing your thoughts on a product, you must follow the guidelines for how you disclose that in your content. The specific rules vary by country but generally, disclosure is required whenever you are directly paid to endorse a product. 

Let’s take a look at some of the ad disclosure policies for creators across the world as of May 2024.

But first, our own disclosure: we’ve compiled ad disclosure rules around the world from official sources wherever available. We’ve done our best to ensure the accuracy of the information but we can’t guarantee accuracy. Nothing that follows should be taken as legal advice.

Table of Contents

🇺🇸 USA: Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 🇺🇸

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal agency that promotes consumer protection. The FTC requires you to inform your followers whenever you receive something of value that could influence your recommendation of a product or service. The FTC can (and do) fine influencers who don’t follow these rules.

FTC Ad Disclosure Rules:

  • Disclose any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.
  • Ensure disclosures are clear and conspicuous, easy to see and understand.
  • Place disclosures close to endorsements; avoid using ambiguous terms.
  • Use simple language like “ad” or “sponsored.”
  • Disclose in the same language as the endorsement.
  • Make disclosures in both audio and visual formats for videos.
  • Repeat disclosures periodically in live streams.
  • Do not make misleading claims about products.

See the FTC’s guidelines for ‘Endorsements, Influencers, and Reviews’ and Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers for all the details.

🇨🇦 Canada: The Competition Bureau / Ad Standards 🇨🇦

The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (CCAS), provides a structure for honest “testimonials, endorsements or other representations of opinion or preference”. These guidelines are in force across all media formats and all forms of influencer marketing.

Canadian Competition Bureau Ad Disclosure Rules:

  • Always disclose any material connection to the brand, such as financial relationships, gifts, or employment ties.
  • Ensure disclosures are clear, prominent, and placed close to the endorsement, making them easily noticeable and understandable.
  • Use simple, straightforward language like “ad” or “sponsored,” and make sure disclosures are in the same language as the content. For videos, include disclosures both visually and audibly.
  • Apply disclosures consistently across all content types, including static posts, videos, stories, and blogs.
  • Follow best practices for specific scenarios like gifted products, events, affiliate marketing, and refer-a-friend programs.

See the Canadian Competition Bureau Influencer Marketing Disclosure Guidelines for Canada (PDF) for all the details.

🇬🇧 UK: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) 🇬🇧

Influencer marketing in the UK is currently regulated by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). 

The guidelines are mandatory, and failure to comply may result in the banning of the advertisement or, in extreme cases, could include prosecution for a criminal offense. 

Aside from anything else, “I’m an influencer who didn’t disclose sponsored content” probably isn’t the best answer to have when a fellow inmate asks “what are you in for?”

UK Advertising Standards Authority Ad Disclosure Rules: 

  • Always clearly state when a post is an ad.
  • Use clear terms like “#ad” or “advertisement” at the beginning of the post.
  • Ensure disclosures are easily noticeable, not hidden in links or less visible areas.
  • Disclose all commercial relationships, including paid promotions, gifts, or loans.
  • Apply these rules across all platforms and media types.
  • Follow both the CAP Code and consumer protection law.

See the full disclosure guidelines for UK influencers (PDF) for all the details.

🇪🇺 European Union: European Commission (EC) 🇪🇺

The EU recently did a “sweep” and discovered that “online influencers rarely disclose commercial content.” Adweek picked up the story: “Most European Influencers Fail to Disclose Ads.” 

Anyone that doesn’t disclose sponsored content goes European Union consumer law by failing to disclose payment received from brands. The EU has “mandatory” disclosure rules for all 22 of its member states. under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, influencers should “not mislead consumers with false or untruthful information on the promoted products or services.”

European Commission Ad Disclosure Rules: 

  • Disclosures must be clear, unambiguous, and easily visible. They should be placed where they can be easily noticed, not hidden in links or less visible sections.
  • Use simple and straightforward language such as “advertisement,” “ad,” or “sponsored.” Ensure that the disclosure is in the same language as the content.
  • Apply the disclosure rules consistently across all social media platforms and formats, including posts, stories, and videos.
  • Always disclose any material connection with the brand, such as financial compensation, gifts, or other benefits.
  • Make sure the disclosure appears at the beginning of the content, especially for video or audio formats, to ensure it is seen or heard immediately by viewers.

See the full EU policy on ad disclosures in the EU Influencer Legal Hub.

🇦🇺 Australia: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) 🇦🇺

Social media influencers in Australia must disclose any payments or benefits received through affiliate programs, sponsorships, paid partnerships, or free items received in exchange for promoting products or services. 

Failing to disclose can violate Australian Consumer Law, resulting in fines from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Ad Disclosure Rules: 

  • Always disclose paid content clearly and prominently.
  • Use straightforward labels like “#Ad,” “Advert,” “Advertising,” “Branded Content,” or “Paid Partnership.”
  • Avoid vague terms like “sp,” “spon,” “gifted,” “affiliate,” or just tagging the brand.
  • Ensure the disclosure is easily noticeable, not hidden among other hashtags or at the end of posts.
  • Disclose any content created in exchange for payment or gifts.

See the full ACCA rules and guidance  around sponsored content disclosures.

🇮🇳 India: Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) 🇮🇳

The guidelines from the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) require social media influencers to include a disclosure label (such as “Ad,” “Sponsored,” “Collaboration,” etc.) on all advertisements to clearly identify the content as paid promotion. 

Interestingly, the rules suggest influencers should also conduct their own due diligence to ensure the advertiser can substantiate the claims made in the advertisement.

Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) Ad Disclosure Rules: 

  • Disclosures must be clear, prominent, and unambiguous.
  • Use straightforward labels like “ad,” “advertisement,” “sponsored,” or “paid partnership.”
  • Avoid using vague terms such as “collab” or “affiliate.”
  • Place the disclosure where it is easily noticeable, such as at the beginning of a post or prominently in a video.
  • For videos, the disclosure should be visible on the screen for a significant duration and should be repeated if necessary.
  • Apply rules consistently across all media and formats, including static posts, videos, stories, and live streams.
  • Always disclose any material connections with the brand, including financial compensation, free products, or other benefits.
  • Influencers are responsible for ensuring that their content complies with the disclosure requirements, regardless of the platform used.
  • Use language and placement that is easily understandable to the average consumer.
  • Avoid disclosures that are hidden in a long list of hashtags or buried in less noticeable sections of the content.

See the official ASCI ad disclosure policy here.

🇨🇳 China: Chinese Advertising Law (CAL) 🇨🇳

Mainland China has very strict laws when it comes to ads, which would seem to also include influencer endorsements. So, sponsored content must be clearly marked as a paid ad. Brands are also held accountable for disclosure.

Chinese Advertising Law (CAL) Ad Disclosure Rules: 

  • Influencers must disclose endorsements regardless of payment or control by the brand.
  • Advertisements must be clearly marked as ‘广告’ (advertisement) to distinguish them from other content.
  • Disclosures should be prominent and easily noticeable to consumers.
  • The rules apply to all online and offline endorsements .
  • Failure to disclose can result in fines up to RMB 100,000 (approx. USD 15,000) and other corrective actions.

See China advertising laws for more detail.

🌍 Influencer Ad Disclosure Rules Around the World 🌏

After reviewing all the ad disclosure rules above, there are some clear commonalities: 

  • Clear and Conspicuous: Disclosures must be easily noticeable and understandable.
  • Placement: Position disclosures near the endorsement.
  • Simple Language: Use terms like “ad,” “sponsored,” or “paid partnership.”
  • Consistent: Disclose sponsored content across all formats (posts, videos, stories, etc)..
  • Not Just Money: Direct financial compensation requires disclosure, but so do gifts, relationships, etc.
  • Say It Again: Include both visual and audio disclosures, repeated if necessary.
  • Language Consistency: Disclosures should match the content’s language.

Consumers are increasingly turning to influencer reviews and content before making purchasing decisions. This can blur the distinction between authentic digital content and paid promotions, leaving consumers struggling to discern between the two. Ad disclosure rules can help. 

Whether disclosure is required or not, honesty is the best policy, for brands and influencers alike. Done well, an ad disclosure doesn’t undermine the value of the content. Rather, this transparency builds trust and helps potential buyers make informed choices.

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