#Sponsored? Do Federal Trade Commission Disclosures Apply to the Met Gala?

Chances are, if guests at Monday evening’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala were not wearing Versace (one of the evening's sponsors), they will be wearing looks from the brand that sponsored their attendance. For the uninitiated, the Met Gala ticketing situation works like this: Attendees, which are all pre-approved by the event’s chair Anna Wintour, pay between $30,000 and $50,000 for an individual ticket or commit to a minimum of $275,000 for a table for 10.

“While individual tickets are hard to come by," according to the New York Post, "it’s almost impossible to snag one of the tables (there were 65 last year), which reportedly go for $275,000 but which sources [said] can cost upwards of $500,000. They are typically snatched up by sponsors like Apple and Warner Bros., and fashion houses like Maison Valentino.”

Do Disclosures Belong on the Red Carpet? 

With this in mind, when you see a group of models/actresses all wearing one brand, chances are, they are guests of that brand. For instance, last year Ciara, Hailee Steinfeld, Jennifer Hudson, Amber Valetta, Lucky Blue Smith and Pyper America Smith all wore H&M. This is because the Swedish fast fashion – which is one of the sponsors of the Gala – dressed them, paid for their tickets (by way of its table), and may have even paid them to attend.

In 2015, Kate Hudson, Hailee Steinfeld, Elizabeth Banks, Candice Swanepoel, Liu Wen, Gao Yuanyuan, Gemma Ward, Fei Fei Sun, and Grace Coddington all wore Michael Kors creations, as indicated on the brand’s website. The year before, Cara Delevingne, Kate Bosworth, Reese Witherspoon, and Rihanna all attended as designer Stella McCartney’s guests.

Last year, McCartney came with actresses Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts in tow. Calvin Klein's Raf Simons attended with Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, A$AP Rocky, Paris Jackson, and Bill Skarsgård. H&M dressed seven attendees: Nicki Minaj, Future, Ashley Graham, Joe Jonas, Jourdan Dunn, Sasha Lane, and Stella Maxwell. And Burberry brought Lily James, Lucas Hedges, Ruby Rose, Olivia Cooke, Matt Smith, and Donald Glover. The list goes on similarly in this manner. 

Interestingly, although unsurprisingly, such endorsement-style connections are almost never disclosed by way of brands’ websites and/or the brands/celebrities’ social media accounts when they post about the event (raising truth-in-advertising and Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") concerns).

Such disclosure-less appearances by celebrities and models in branded garments on the red carpet are coupled with the back-door deals upon which the Gala relies. For instance, things get even messier when Vogue spreads and advertisements get thrown into the mix.

According to the New York Post, “Sponsors like Yahoo, who ponied up $3 million for two tables at the 2015 gala, typically underwrite the party and museum exhibit. And they’re usually in with Vogue. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer appeared in a 2013 Vogue article and shoot. Apple, which was a sponsor in 2016 and is again this year, purchased a 12-page spread in the March 2015 issue of Vogue, valued at more than $2.2 million." 

The FTC recently emphasized the need for both brands and endorsers to abide by its disclosure guidelines, which state that if there is a “material connection” between an endorser and an advertiser (aka: a connection that might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement) that connection must be "clearly and conspicuously" disclosed.

It also recently held that disclosures, such as as “#sp,” “Thanks [Brand],” or “#partner” - in an Instagram post to mean that the post is sponsored, are not valid. However, “Ad,” “Promotion,” or “Sponsored,” or “#Ad,” are acceptable forms of disclosure. 

Just like with other red carpet events, the FTC's rules almost certainly apply to the Met Gala. Venable’s Daniel S. Blynn, a partner in the firm’s national Advertising and Marketing Practice, says, “The [FTC's] Guides suggest that the celebrity should disclose his or her material connection to the advertiser.” Such a material connection could very well be deemed to arise from a brand providing a celebrity or model with a comped ticket. (Although it is worth noting that the language surrounding such a scenario is arguably a bit tricky). 

 #MetGala #Ad

Despite the fact there were not many disclosures made (at all) on Monday evening, that does not mean that this was not one heavily #sponsored red carpet. While it would be lovely to believe that brands buy tickets (or in some cases, tables) for the Met Gala purely for philanthropic reasons (such as to support the Met), it would be naive to overlook the business and marketing opportunities that come hand-and-hand with a night that has been called "the East Coast Oscars."

Having said that, if brands are, in fact, shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars or more (not unlike brands do in order to show their runway collections each season), they are almost certainly doing so with advertising opportunities in mind. And a red carpet as highly regarded as the Met Gala is nothing if not a prime advertising opportunity.

So, the Met Gala is quite similar to any other marketing activity for a brand, as it is a platform meant to help boost brand awareness and draw in consumers. The overwhelming lack of Comme des Garçons looks on last year's red carpet seems quite indicative of that.