Last year I attended a Fashion Law Symposium, where one of the topics discussed is the guidelines that the Federal Trade Commission has required that bloggers and influencers to disclose when a blog post, a tweet, an Instagram post, or Facebook post is endorsed by a brand or company. These guidelines are a response to the increasing influence and power that bloggers hold over consumers.
Many brands have recognized that consumers are more influenced by seeing people they admire wear or use products than the traditional means of advertising. A girl living in the middle of America who is obsessed with fashion is likely to get her style inspiration from bloggers whose style she loves and wants to emulate more than from magazines that have come to be seen as unattainable.
It’s undeniable that fashion bloggers are gaining more and more power in the industry, with mega bloggers like ManRepeller, Damsel in Dior, and Song of Style becoming regulars at front rows of major fashion shows, creating collaborations with high fashion brands, and eventually creating and distributing their own products.
At the symposium, a representative of the FTC explained that these new guidelines are a response to this growing power that bloggers have over the average consumer and that the FTC wants to ensure that the consumer is understanding when a post is organic, meaning that the blogger really does love and/or wear the products she’s posting, and when a post is endorsed, meaning the blogger was either paid or was given free products with the promise of posting about the company.
The underlying basis of the guidelines is what the FTC calls truth in advertising, “[t]o ensure that products and services are described truthfully online and that consumers get what they pay for.” The fear is that brands that recognize the power of blogger would likely start sending the blogger products in the hopes that the blogger will post about the products or that the brand will partner with the blogger and pay the blogger to talk about and endorse the brand and its products. When this happens, the blogger is no longer posting about brands and pieces that she loves and wears but rather pieces that were sent to her so that the brand could capitalize on her large following.
The FTC now requires bloggers to disclose to their readers that the post is an endorsed post so that the consumer is fully aware of why they are seeing what they are seeing. Many bloggers and influencers are quite opposed to this because displaying something like “Endorsed Post” on a blog post or a hashtag such as #ad or #sponsored takes the organic feeling of a blogger talking about the things she loves away from that post. As a result, many bloggers fail to disclose that their posts are sponsored or endorsed by the brand they are posting about.
For example, back in March, Lord & Taylor employed an advertising campaign where they gave 50 popular bloggers a paisley print dress from their new collection and paid them a certain sum to post a photo of themselves wearing the dress. This practice falls perfectly under the situation where the FTC requires bloggers to disclose to their followers that the post was sponsored. However, as Refinery 29 reported, none of the bloggers disclosed that the post was sponsored.
It’s unclear what ramifications there are when a blogger fails to follow these guidelines as there are no monetary penalties. A blogger could end up being prosecuted by the FTC but it’s unlikely that something like that would end up happening anytime soon.
It’s an interesting dichotomy thinking about these guidelines because as an attorney, I can fully understand the need to protect consumers. As you scroll through Instagram or browse through the countless fashion blogs, you begin to wonder, does this fashion blogger really love her new Chloé Drew bag or is she being paid to be a part of the #chloegirls? (Which, I’m not gonna lie, all I want in life is to be a #chloegirl, who wouldn’t?).
But, on the other hand, brands giving out free products to bloggers is not unlike brands giving out free products to celebrities in the hopes that they are photographed in their product. However, there are no guidelines regulating brands giving out swag to celebrities at events or sending products to their representatives.
I also believe that many of these bloggers wouldn’t risk accepting a collaboration or a product that doesn’t go with their sense of style. Many of these bloggers’ empires rests on the fact that they have a certain sense of style that the average consumer loves. If they all of a sudden post about a product that doesn’t match that style sensibility, consumers will see right through it and will lose respect for the blogger and the blogger loses all credibility and thus loses her influence over her followers.
The power of fashion bloggers is not going away. There has been no medium quite like it that can reach the consumer as effectively as a fashion blogger and influencer. And, while there may be countless fashion bloggers out there with more popping up every day, their influence is here to stay. With that, the desire and need for brands to use this outlet and connection to consumers will only grow, especially in a tough market like the fashion industry, where trends and styles change seasonally.
The question is how will the FTC, brands, and bloggers navigate these new waters? Will brand begin to educated bloggers on the need for disclosure when they collaborate with them? Will bloggers disclose their endorsed posts more and more? Will the FTC enforce its regulations more harshly and employ harsher penalties for a failure to comply?
I guess we will just have to wait and see.