Online Contest Legal Rules: Hashtag Disclosures Insufficient

First: If you’re an online marketer, and you haven’t seen W1A — hunt down at least one episode. Next: Why am I talking about an obscure British television show on the website of an online marketing law firm in Arizona?

The arid-humor spin-off to Twenty Twelve, W1A is a workplace mockumentary (think The Office) set at the BBC.

Subplot B:  The BBC hires Siobhan Sharpe — of Perfect Curve PR — to digitally re-brand the iconic media outlet. In one scene, the Perfect Curve team deduces that “everything” needs to be “app-y,” and that “anything” properly “app-y,” must have as few words and letters as possible.

Well, let’s just say that the latest FTC announcement would short-circuit Siobhan and co., because the commission wants social media marketers — and contest participants — to start using MORE WORDS!

No, let me rephrase that. The Federal Trade Commission now wants businesses to jump through wildfire when disclosing social media contests.

Participation in an online competition constitutes product endorsement?

The FTC recently weighed in on whether hashtags were a sufficient endorsement disclosure method for social media contests. It’s answer? No.

It’s a shocking stance. After all, what are contest operators supposed to do – especially when many social media platforms don’t physically lend themselves to long disclosures? How can you fit a full contest disclosure in a 140-character tweet?

Pinterest Contest Leads To FTC Censure For Cole Haan

Shoemaker, Cole Haan, decided to stage a social media contest. The company invited customers to post photos of Cole Haan shoes in various locales (think gnome around the world – but with shoes). The most creative entry would win a $1,000 bounty.

Well, the FTC wasn’t pleased with Cole Hann’s online contest. In fact, the FTC deemed the shoe company deceptive for not having participants properly disclose the potential to win cash-money for their ghost-foot pics.

What Is The FTC Trying To Do With This Latest Online Contest Decision? Will It Handicap Small Businesses?

The Godfather of online marketing law, Eric Goldman, explained why this social media marketing law decision is troubling. “It’s part of the whole phenomenon of the FTC thinking that it can police inauthentic content online,” he succinctly explained. “What is the FTC’s ultimate message to online marketers and contest operators? You’re responsible for your brand’s fans’ online activities?” he concluded.

Bottom Legal Line For Online Contests

If you plan to do an online or social media contest, make sure to instruct participants to post sufficient disclosures with their entries — or YOU may pay the price.

Speak With An Online Contest Lawyer

Are you planning an online contest? Wondering if it’s legally compliant? Get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law to find out. Our firm has successfully helped countless online contest operators – let’s do the same for you.

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