ESPN Reminds (Warns?) On-Air Talent About Paid Advertising Tweets

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ESPN’s talent office sent out this email Wednesday, and a mole at the network passed it along. Some thoughts at the bottom:

> From: Talent Office > To: Talent Office > Subject: Personal Endorsements & FTC guidelines for disclosure > > In light of recent press regarding paid-for tweets and other social media posts by ESPN talent, we wish to remind you that you are responsible for your communications and the opinions, comments or content expressed therein. For example, under U.S. law, if you personally endorse a third party product, service or event, you can be held personally liable for, among other things, any communications deemed false, deceptive and misleading. Accordingly, if you agree to disseminate tweets and other social media posts for an advertiser anywhere in the world in connection with a personal endorsement, you may want to seek your own legal counsel, but you (and your counsel) should work directly with the advertiser to ensure that such tweets and social media posts comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations. > > In the U.S., applicable laws, rules and regulations include, the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (“Guides”), which can be found at https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/press-releases/ftc-publishes-final-guides-governing-endorsements-testimonials/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf. The Guides, among other things, require endorsements to reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser, and to disclose material connections between the endorser and the advertiser when the endorsement is not identifiable to consumers as advertising. While the particular facts (including statements made in, and the context and circumstances surrounding, an advertising or promotional message) will determine whether a disclosure is required, this basically means (for example) that if a paid-for tweet or other social media post could mislead reasonable consumers as to its true nature or source (e.g., that you – not the advertiser – are the source of an advertising or promotional message), then the tweet or post must disclose your connection to the advertiser. No special wording is required, but the disclosure must be clear and conspicuous, depending on the medium in which it is delivered. In the context of tweets, the Federal Trade Commission has said the words “Paid Ad”, “sponsored,” or “promotion” would likely be effective, as would starting the tweet with “#ad.” Attached is recent guidance from the Federal Trade Commission in this area.

This is all very inside baseball, but the timing of the email makes it noteworthy. Recently, a couple of ESPN’s most high profile reporters, Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, were paid to tweet about Domino’s Pizza. (There’s nothing wrong with that. Athletes get paid to tweet. Actors get paid to promote. Why can’t the media?).

But many people had a problem with it because it wasn’t announced as an advertisement. The horror! Ditto with one of the network’s rising stars, Kaylee Hartung.

Here are some other examples:

The problem, of course, is that the FTC is trying to avoid deceptive ads flooding the web and social media, and when you put 1 + 1 together, you get ESPN’s above email.

An ESPN spokesman told The Big Lead, “we sent out an email to select folks to provide guidance, as we often do.”

As you were.

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