Chanel has announced that it will stage its “The Modernity of Antiquity” Cruise collection in Chengdu, China next month and its latest Métiers d’Art collection in Hamburg in December. The shows will be the latest in a string of far-flung located shows that the Paris-based brand has staged over the year from ho-downs in Texas to forays in Havana, Seoul, Dubai and Singapore. While we can always count on Chanel to do it up for its pre-season events, one thing that might be different this season: Publications disclosing the nature of their reviews and related coverage.
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has long held that material connects between brands and publications – and brands and editors, influencers, etc. – must be disclosed. However, much of the fashion industry has long flouted the rule, opting to not shed light on the fact that brands tend to fly and put up editors in luxurious settings so that they can take in – and review or provide other coverage – of the pre-season collections. (There is a theory that content that is not flagged as “Sponsored” will be better received and more engaging to consumers).
Whether it be reviews of the collections, themselves, by some of the industry’s most esteemed publications, or Instagram coverage by heavily-followed editors, such coverage has almost uniformly been devoid of any of the legally-mandated disclosures, as we have discussed at length in the past. (Note: WWD, the New York Times, WSJ, and the Washington Post have a long history of footing their own travel bills).
This time around, however, things might be different, as the FTC recently reiterated its disclosure rules as part of a larger push to focus its efforts on the fashion industry and some of its most influential individuals, in particular.
In a recently-released document, entitled, “The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking,” the FTC specifically spoke to the industry’s paid-for-travel practice. One of the questions included in the government agency’s report: “I’m a blogger, and XYZ Resort Company is flying me to one of its destinations and putting me up for a few nights. If I write an article sharing my thoughts about the resort destination, how should I disclose the free travel?”
The FTC provided the following answer: “Your disclosure could be just, ‘XYZ Resort paid for my trip’ or ‘Thanks to XYZ Resort for the free trip.’ It would also be accurate to describe your blog as ‘sponsored by XYZ Resort.’”
While this question – and the FTC’s response – is seemingly only directed towards influencers, who must disclose paid-for-travel, it almost certainly extends to editors and publications, as well. And the FTC has been quite clear in terms of what it considers to be valid disclosures. Language, such as that stated above, if included in a website post, should be included at the beginning of the post, as it “is unlikely to be, or less likely to be sufficient, because consumers might not read to the end,” Mary K. Engle, the FTC’s associate director for advertising practices, told the New York Times.
Ms. Engle further noted, “You need that disclosure before you are getting the rest of the information. You want it as you are processing the information, so you can know, ‘O.K., this is the deal.’” That, according to the FTC, is at the beginning of the article.
As for social media posts, which must also include disclosures by both U.S. and non-U.S. citizen parties, the FTC has stated that #Ad and #Sponsored are safe bets. The government entity also recently stated that #Ambassador and #Partner are likely valid but only if they include the brand name. So, #GucciPartner, for instance.
Placement at the beginning of the social media post is ideal, per the FTC, whereas the mixing of the disclosure hashtag amongst other hashtags will be deemed to be invalid, as will simply disclosing by way of Instagram’s “Paid for Parntership” feature. The FTC has held that the latter built-in feature “does not suffice” as a disclosure.
In short: "Consumers need to know when social media influencers [and publications] are being paid or have any other material connection to the brands featured in their posts," said FTC acting chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen. And this includes pre-season collections.
As for whether influencers and publications will opt to disclose en masse this season, it seems rather unlikely given that the FTC has not given them any real incentive to do so. To date, while the FTC has taken action against a number of companies and individuals - ranging from Cole Haan to YouTube influencers - it has not levied any monetary fines, making their threats of enforcement less than well ... threatening to most fashion industry entities.
Until the FTC is willing to make an example of a major brand and/or influencer with a monetary penalty, reviews and collection coverage will largely remain unchanged.