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3 Ways to Keep Your Sponsored Content FTC Compliant

Earlier this year, a bunch of Instagram stars got in trouble over using sketchy advertising practices in their posts. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent “educational” letters to 90 social media influencers, reminding them that they need to clearly state when a post is sponsored or promoted by a brand.

Not following the FTC’s rules can certainly lead to bad consequences. In 2016, Warner Bros. settled charges over claims that they failed to disclose promoted content. The company paid YouTube influencers thousands of dollars each to make positive review videos for a new game, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. At no point did Warner Bros. or the influencers disclose that the videos were promoted content.

Even though Warner Bros. didn’t have to pay any hefty fines, they wasted time in the courtroom and got a backlash of bad publicity. Their behavior is far from unique, however; a 2016 study found that 2/3 of publishers don’t properly disclose native advertisements as mandated by the FTC.

To help advertisers and publishers alike, the FTC released a guide on how to accurately make effective disclosures within native advertising. They focus on three key points: proximity, prominence, and clarity.


Location, location, location. It’s what proximity’s all about.

The FTC strongly recommends that you place disclosures “as close as possible to the native ads to which they relate.” That means putting disclosures right where people will notice them first.

For print and text-based ads, disclosures should be put above, in front of, or next to the headline. If a sponsored post spans multiple pages, the disclosure should appear on each page right near the content.

You don’t have to scroll down to see the “Sponsor Content” tag on this National Geographic article. The publisher does a good job here of placing the tag above the headline, letting readers know that they’re about to read a sponsored message.

Source: Instagram

On social media posts, à la Instagram, sponsored hashtags, such as #ad or #sponsored, are better off typed within the first three description lines. Why? Most people typically don’t click a description’s “more” button. Any sponsored hashtags should also be placed separately from other hashtags for better viewability, like in the doughnut post above.

Multimedia ads are a little different. Since video and audio messages usually don’t have accompanying text, you need to state disclosures before any sponsored or advertising content plays.


It isn’t enough to slap a disclosure on a page and call it a day. You need to think about how it looks, too.

Prominence defines what elements make the disclosure obvious, including color and font choices. The goal here is to have the disclosure contrast heavily enough so that it’s distinguishable from the rest of the content.

Best color practices include using contrasting colors so that the disclosure pops from the page. For instance, using red text on a white background creates a focal point, drawing readers’ eyes to the disclosure.

If you choose to block out a native ad with a darker or lighter background, the color should be saturated for maximum viewability. You can see this in action in the UC Davis-sponsored article below.

Font choice is just as crucial as color. Disclosure text must be large enough to be noticed without having to zoom in. You should also design your disclosures using clean, legible fonts. Sorry, Edwardian Script and Wingdings are out of the question.


Once you figure out where you’re placing your disclosure and how you’re making it pop, you need to decide what it’s going to say. After all, wording is important.

Any disclosure language needs to be as clear and understandable as possible. The average person should figure out, just by the disclosure alone, that they’re viewing an advertisement. It’s best to use plain words and avoid industry jargon.

Interestingly, the FTC warns that in some cases, phrases like “Promoted by [X],” “Brought to You by [X],” or “Sponsored by [X]” might be too vague. Depending on the context, people might think an advertiser funded the content but didn’t have any hand in creating or influencing it, which is usually not true.

If you’re a publisher, use consistent terms throughout your website for your disclosures. For instance, if you choose a phrase like “Sponsored by [X]” for one article, then all sponsored articles should be marked the same way sitewide.

Source: GQ

GQ gets it right. All of the native ads on the site are categorized under the same author, “GQ Bespoke - Sponsor Content.” The disclosure language is straightforward, minimizing chances of reader confusion.

Source: GQ

GQ even takes an extra step and includes “sponsor content” in each article’s URL. That way, if the article gets shared on social media, people see the disclosure before they click on the link.

Follow the Rules

Whenever you’re unsure if a disclosure is valid, remember the three rules:

  • Proximity. Where the disclosure is placed.

  • Prominence. How the disclosure stands out.

  • Clarity. What the disclosure says.

Keep your brand safe by thoroughly marking your disclosures across all platforms and devices, else you may find yourself guilty of FTC non compliance.

This post originally appeared on eZanga.

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