Lord & Taylor did not return requests for comment.
In the wake of the controversy, here are five key lessons for
marketers and agencies to consider when using social media
With so much content across varying platforms, there are many ways
for brands to disclose their relationships with endorsers. It can
be as simple as using the hashtags "#ad" or "#sponsored" in the
post, or an overlay could be added to an image or video that
indicates who is sponsoring the content. The disclosure must always
be in the original post.
Bloggers who are given items for free in exchange for reviewing
or promoting products should also disclose that early in their
posts, just as a reviewer for a news outlet like The New York Times
And in more complex instances, marketers should err on the side
of caution. Cole Haan waded into murky waters in 2012 with a
Pinterest promotion in which users were encouraged to share five
images of their favorite Cole Haan shoes with the hashtag
#WanderingSole for a chance to win $1,000. It failed to meet FTC
guidelines, because it was unclear to average consumers that the
pins were incentivized, according to a letter the FTC sent to Cole
The push might have worked if the hashtag included the word
"contest," and if the pins had language indicating they were part
of a contest to win a $1,000 shopping spree.
"There's no silver bullet," said Bradley Shear, a Bethesda,
Md.-based attorney who specializes in social media, privacy law and
technology. "Transparency really is the key in all this. As long as
the brand and the marketing agencies are fully truthful, then the
FTC is not going to come back and say this is unfair and
When in doubt, disclose, disclose, disclose
As new social platforms crop up, there is bound to be confusion
over the best way to disclose relationships with influencers.
Online video, for example, can be a challenge because of the way
films are shared across platforms. Marketers and bloggers have to
disclose their relationship in the films, in the descriptions of
the films and in the posts used to promote them.
For the launch of the 2015 Toyota Sienna, agency Golin tapped
the YouTube dads behind "Convos With My 2-Year-Old" and "Action
Movie Kid" to create digital videos featuring the minivan. To show
that Toyota sponsored the content, the brand's logo was overlaid at
the bottom of the screen throughout the films and Toyota messaging
appeared at the end of the ads.
The bloggers were also open about their relationship with Toyota
when they promoted the videos on social media. "Toyota lent us
their new 2015 Sienna," said one post by "Convos With My
Two-Year-Old," which closed with the hashtag #sponsored.
While some commenters were disappointed that their favorite
bloggers "sold out," many enjoyed the ads. "Best sponsored video
I've seen in awhile," said one Facebook comment. "You totally
deserve a free minivan," said another.
"Transparency doesn't hinder the effectiveness of a campaign, it
enhances it," said Jeff Beringer, global practice leader for
digital at Golin. "It makes things clear so people can focus on the
Get it in writing
The safest marketers and agencies treat social media endorsements
like they would any other sponsorship. They have written agreements
in place with the influencers they work with that provide specific
instructions on how disclosure will take place.
"It's baked into the structure of the relationships," said Mr.
Beringer at Golin, adding that top-tier influencers are used to
this and take disclosure as seriously as brands do.
A written agreement can go a long way if a brand ever needs to
defend itself against an FTC crack down. But it's not enough.
Marketers still need to watch the posts to make sure that they
match the agreed upon language.
"You can't just wash your hands of it," said Mr. Shear, the
attorney. "Even if you have an agreement in place, you have to make
sure the agreement is being followed."
Fix your mistakes
It can be easy to slip up on disclosures, especially when managing
large campaigns with numerous influencers. But getting out ahead of
the problem and clarifying relationships with influencers can help
brands earn back trust from consumers, who tend to be more
forgiving when brands own up to their mistakes, and offer
protection against FTC enforcement.
"It's always helpful when you try to correct a mistake," said
Mr. Shear. "It's very difficult to bring the hammer down on a brand
and say that it was intentionally deceptive, if it found out
there's a problem and then tried to correct it."
Curb your expectations
Earlier this month, Pharrell Williams
sported the Apple Watch on Instagram along with one word:
"Woah." For our purposes, let's consider "woah" an endorsement and
presume the watch, which is not yet available for purchase, was
given to the hip-hop producer for free. Apple might still be in the
clear for not disclosing its relationship with Mr. Williams, if the
technology giant didn't expect the star to endorse or review the
product and he acted independently.
"If someone is given something for free and there's no quid pro
quo and no expectation there, then people have a First Amendment
right to talk about things," said Mr. Shear. "Again, it comes back
to being fully transparent."