In its push to gain traction in the fashion world, which has not been an easy feat to date, Amazon quietly launched an influencer platform last month. As distinct from its existing Amazon Affiliates initiative – which is open to just about anyone and enables users to receive a commission on sales garnered through links they share – the e-commerce giant’s Influencer Program is a more exclusive endeavor. Currently in beta mode, it is “open by invitation only.” As such, influencers must apply for an invitation and be approved in order to join.
According to the beta build out of the Influencer Program, it “is exclusively designed for social media influencers with large followings and a high frequency of posts with shoppable content.” Amazon further notes, “An intuitive vanity URL [aka – one that mirrors the influencer’s other social media handles] makes it easy for customers to find, browse and buy the products introduced to them through social media influencers. The program allows influencers to earn fees for purchases they drive through their social media platforms.”
As for who will meet the cut, Amazon states that in evaluating invitation requests, it “looks at various factors, including but not limited to number of followers on various social media platforms, engagement on posts, quality of content and level of relevancy for Amazon.com.” Note: “There is no set cut-off and influencers across all tiers and categories are represented in the program.”
FTC and the Need for Disclosures
Tech Crunch noted that “Amazon is in no way working with the influencers on product selection, vetting products, nor providing free products and brands are not working through Amazon to reach these influencers either.” Nonetheless, there is still a chance that Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) guidelines apply and will be violated en mass in connection with the Amazon Influencer platform.
As we set forth in previous FTC-related discussions, basic truth-in-advertising principles hold that it is deceptive to mislead consumers about the commercial nature of content, and that advertisements/promotions – no matter their medium – are deceptive if they appear to be something other than ads.
With this in mind, the FTC Act states that an act or practice is deceptive if there is a material misrepresentation or omission of information that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably in the circumstances. As such, the FTC has long required advertisers and promoting parties – alike – to disclose material connections that consumers would not know or expect so that they can make purchasing decisions accordingly.
Given the FTC’s stance on influencers and affiliate links, alike, Amazon’s newly tapped influencers will likely need to include disclosures when they share Amazon links – and Amazon will need to ensure that they do so, since influencers will earn a commission in connection with links they share. As noted by the FTC in its “The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking” guidance post, “Consumers might not understand that ‘affiliate link’ means that the person placing the link is getting paid for purchases through the link.” The organization further states, if an “affiliate link is embedded in your product review – a single disclosure may be adequate.”
On the other hand, “when the review has a clear and conspicuous disclosure of your relationship and the reader can see both the review containing that disclosure and the link at the same time, readers have the information they need. You could say something like, ‘I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.’”
Additionally, since the FTC has held that the posting of a photo, even without explicit endorsement language, may be considered an endorsement, the inclusion of a link (from which the influencer stands to gain compensation) likely gives rise to the need for disclosure of that fact.
As always, the FTC is adamant that disclosures be “clear and conspicuous” – regardless of the medium (links on social media must be disclosed just as those included in blog posts), and “consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily. They shouldn’t have to hunt for it.”
This new platform, while certainly a way for Amazon to achieve visibility within the fashion sphere, will also likely be a haven for potential FTC violations, as the vast majority of the industry’s most successful influencers are known to blatantly disregard the government organization’s regulations in order to dupe consumers (by making their endorsements look more authentic sans an #ad hashtag) and brands have been lax in their monitoring of such posts, as well. Stay tuned.