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Lawyer gives pointers on advertising in the digital era

BY FALON FOLKES
Observer staff reporter
folkesf@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 08, 2018

MARKETERS should get into the habit of disclosing the connection between their companies and social media influencers to give consumers a fair chance when purchasing products.

The appeal was made by Jeffrey Greenbaum, global director of the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance (GALA), recently, while he was highlighting the basic principles companies must follow when using social media influencers to advertise their products as he explored the issue of advertising in the digital era.

“The first principle is that if someone speaks on the company's behalf, they have to give their honest opinion. The second rule is that the endorsers speaking on the company's behalf can't say anything the company couldn't say itself.

“The third thing is that if there is a material connection between someone speaking on their behalf in any media... that connection must be disclosed,” he said at the GALA and Foga Daley's Caribbean Advertising and Marketing Law Seminar last Thursday at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

However, the global director noted that if a celebrity or social media influencer is a part of a paid advertisement on different media platforms, then no disclosure is needed.

Greenbaum also explained that advertisements must be transparent.

“The focus right now is on transparency [as well as] ensuring that when consumers see advertising, and when consumers see a social media celebrity speaking about a company, if there's a relationship with [a] company, that needs to be disclosed,“ he said.

“For example, if a person is an employee of the company, that's a material connection to be disclosed. If the person gets free products from the company to try and then post about them positively on social media, that's a material connection that needs to be disclosed,” Greenbaum continued.

On the part of the companies, the global director said companies need to inform influencers that they should disclose when they receive free products. Also, he said if there is a competition where consumers are required to share a photo of themselves using a product, the company must inform them that they need to say why they are sharing the photo.

Greenbaum emphasised that with all information regarding products and services, companies must use clear language.

“You should be accurate about what you are saying to your consumers. For example, let's say you're hiring an influencer to endorse coffee, and you send the influencer some free coffee, and you're also paying the influencer $10,000.

“If the influencer only discloses that they got free coffee, you haven't told consumers the total picture,“ Greenbaum said. “You need to make sure that consumers have enough information so they can judge whether that is really the influencer's opinion or whether it's being influenced by the relationship they have with the company.”

Influencers, too, should note that disclosure must appear where the statement is being made not in the user's biography on their social media page and not on the company's website.

Another aspect of disclosure that he highlighted was the use of hyperlinks.

Greenbaum said hyperlinks must be applied in a way that prompts consumers to click on them.

“It must convey the substance and importance of the disclosure. If you have a hyperlink that says 'disclosure' or 'more information', consumers are not going to know that it is important and they need to click on it.

“However, if it says shipping charges apply, then consumers will know there are shipping charges,” he said, adding that hyperlinks must be labelled to communicate the importance and relevance of the information to consumers.