The federal government has repeatedly advised both advertisers and celebrities that it’s against the law for someone to advertise a product without disclosing that it’s an ad or that the celeb was compensated. Yet it looks like reality TV’s most well-known family either didn’t get that memo or is choosing to ignore it.
The folks at Truth In Advertising (TINA) have been on the Kardashian and Jenner brood for a year, complaining in 2016 to the Federal Trade Commission about the sisters’ alleged stealth ads on Instagram and other social media platforms.
In the months since, the FTC has blasted out warning letters about this practice, some of which involve members of the Kardashian family. One letter [PDF] cites a Kourtney Kardashian Instagram post where she and one of her siblings chows down on some Popeyes chicken, complete with ideal product placement.
Scott Disick, Kourtney’s ex-boyfriend and father to their three children, has been the subject of multiple FTC warning letters. He’s also been caught blatantly copy/pasting advertising text written by others into his Instagram captions.
Yet, TINA now claims to have found another 200 posts on Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook from Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe Kardashian, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner that fail to disclose the fact that they’re ads.
“The Kardashian/Jenner sisters are masterful marketers who are making millions of dollars from companies willing to turn a blind eye to the women’s misleading and deceptive social media marketing practices,” Bonnie Patten, executive director for TINA, said in a statement. “It’s time the Kardashians were held accountable for their misdeeds.”
Making The Distinction
As the FTC has reminded celebrity social media users many times in the past, if they are being paid by a brand to post such photos, they have to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose that relationship.
Merely burying “#ad” among multiple other hashtags is not sufficient. The same goes for a disclosure at the end of a very long caption that is automatically truncated by the social media app of choice.
It’s not all on the reality stars, though; TINA points out that brands are legally obligated to ensure so-called “influencers” adequately disclose their material connection — which can range from compensation to free products to a business or family relationship — in posts.
Here We Go Again
While TINA notes that the Kardashian and Jenner sisters fixed, deleted, or modified about 45% of the posts in violation of disclosure following the group’s complaint last year, that still left another 55% either unchanged or with insufficient disclosures.
Additionally, several of the brands contacted last year for failing to hold up their end of the disclosure requirement are once again involved in ad violations when it comes to the Kardashian and Jenner posts.
For instance, TINA found that Puma, Manuka Doctor, Jet Lux, Fit Tea, and Sugar Bear Hair were repeat offenders. Brands such as Adidas, Diff Eyewear, Alexander Wang, and Lyft were new additions.
TINA has alerted the family and their associated brands, as well as the FTC, to this latest batch of allegedly deceptive social media posts.
It’s Not Enough
Even when the Kardashian and Jenner sisters do attempt to disclose their material connection with brands on social media, they don’t do a very good job of it, TINA claims.
The group contends that the post disclosures fail to meet the FTC’s standards on clear, unambiguous language.
TINA claims to have found dozens of instances in which the sisters made “half-hearted attempts at disclosure” by using “cryptic hashtags” such as #sp (meaning sponsored), #PWCollab (Protein World collaboration), and #KJ4EL (Kendall Jenner for Estee Lauder).
In other posts, TINA notes that the reality stars have belatedly disclosed when posts are sponsored, sometimes waiting hours or even days before revealing their material connection.
This, the group contends, does little to inform the public, as studies have shown that most posts’ likes or comments occur within the first 10 hours of publication.
As a result, “when the sisters use this delayed-disclosure tactic many of their followers have viewed the post prior to it being disclosed as an ad.”
In once instance, TINA found that Kourtney took at least two days to disclose in an Instagram post that she had a sponsorship deal with Jet Lux — a jet charter company. By the time the disclosure was made, more than a million of her followers had already liked the post.
Similarly, Kylie Jenner’s Instagram post about her obsession with new jeans had more than a million likes before she disclosed the photo was a paid endorsement.
“As Kourtney and Kylie’s posts clearly demonstrate even when the sisters do get around to adding a disclosure, there’s no telling where that disclosure will end up in their narrative,” TINA states, noting that it has numerous examples of the sisters burying #ad in the middle or end of posts.
Although TINA found that the reality stars weren’t great at disclosing when posts were ads on all social media avenues, they also claim the women’s posts show they know when to note a post is an ad.
For instance, Kendall Jenner shared the same post about Jet Lux on Instagram and Facebook. However, in the Instagram post the model includes the #ad disclosure at the beginning of her caption, while the Facebook post doesn’t include the disclosure at all.
Looking For Action
TINA says it has notified the FTC of its latest findings related to the Kardashian and Jenner sisters’ posts.
To date, however, TINA points out that the reality stars have largely escaped the FTC’s attempts to rein in bad ads.
Earlier this month, the FTC escalated its crackdown on stealth-advertisements by sending warning letters [PDF] to 21 celebrities including supermodel Naomi Campbell, actresses Vanessa Hudgens, Lindsay Lohan, Lucy Hale, Sofia Vergara, and reality stars — like Snooki from Jersey Shore who show off clothing, food, alcohol, and other products or services through posts on Instagram.
None of the Kardashian or Jenner sisters were included in this list, however, Kourtney’s former boyfriend Scott Disick — who is continuously hanging around the family — was included.
TINA adds that the FTC has recently stated that action against an individual endorser might be appropriate “if the endorser has continued to fail to make required disclosures despite warnings.”
In that case, the group believes the FTC could “take its pick of any of the five Kardashian/Jenner sisters. Or better yet, go after them all.”