Kardashians Accused of Deceptive Marketing

The Kardashians may be household names. They may have millions of followers on social media. But they have been accused of deceptive marketing and if the non-profit group Truth in Advertising has their way, their influencer marketing activities will be severely curtailed.

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Photo by Glenn Francis / CC by

Kardashians in the Crosshairs

The Kardashian family are the elite in the world of social media. The five Kardashian sisters all rank in the top 21 spots worldwide on Instagram, for example, and together share at least 316 million viewers. That’s a lot of potential customers for companies savvy enough to use the Kardashians to tout their wares.

The Kardashians have made a business out of being popular, and often pepper their posts with product placements and advertisements. This isn’t unusual for celebrities on social media. Truth in Advertising wasn’t concerned about the ads.

They are very concerned about posts that don’t appear to be ads. They are very concerned that some of the world’s most influential celebrities aren’t telling their fans that the sisters are being paid thousands of dollars to recommend a particular hair care product or eyeshadow.

For Kardashian followers, it can be very hard to tell what products the Kardashians genuinely like and use and which ones they are being paid to shill. Truth in Advertising sent what amounts to a cease and desist letter to the family. The next step? Truth in Advertising makes a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC.

The Legal Ramifications for the Kardashians

If Truth in Advertising follows through with a formal complaint to the FTC, the Kardashians are looking at serious legal trouble. Since 2015, the FTC has required native advertising posts like the ones shared by the Kardashians to be clearly labeled as advertisements.

A hashtag disclosure is common for social media, but the Kardashians apparently have forgotten to label their paid posts as #ad or #sponsored.

This isn’t the first dance the Kardashians have had with the feds. Kim Kardashian praised a morning sickness drug in a social media ad without disclosing the sponsorship or the potential side effects of the drug. Both are serious issues for the FDA.

The Food and Drug Administration sent an official warning letter to Kim for that infraction. Why are the Kardashians still playing with fire, if they’ve already been burned?

The answer is simple – everyone is doing it. And it pays well.

The Art of Influencer Marketing

The Kardashians aren’t the only influencer marketers around. And they certainly aren’t alone in “forgetting” to put disclosures on their ads. Influencer marketing has become very big business and Truth in Advertising likely went after the Kardashians first as a warning to the many other celebrities dancing on the legal edge in social media.

Traditional ads were designed to be a conversation between a company and the purchasing public. Over the years advertising and marketing strategies have matured and developed into a wide range of possibilities for product placements, viral ads, and influencer support.

Oprah’s book club was a prime example of influencer marketing. If Oprah picked a book for her show, that book was going to be popular. She was a tremendous influence in that field. Today, thanks especially to social media, we have influencers in virtually any field, ready to show off products or services on behalf of companies or individuals.

A spokesperson-type role is certainly nothing new. Celebrities have graced the covers of cereal boxes and held various soft drinks on television for years. But influencer marketing is more subtle than the official poster child or spokesperson.

Influencer marketing is a popular person sharing something they like or enjoy in a casual way. If your favorite celebrity likes a particular hair product, shouldn’t you try it, too?

Influencer Marketing Gone Wrong

The only trouble is, when you’re being paid to shill for a product, you have to tell your audience. The Kardashians may be forced to learn this the hard way as a message to others.

Already the buzz about the Kardashians and Truth in Advertising is shining a light on the darker practices of influencer marketing. The most-liked post of all time on Instagram is from Selena Gomez. In the post she is shilling for Coca-Cola. Without a disclosure. Oops.

While the Kardashians are the big names in this particular legal snafu, it is the companies that bear the brunt of any legal recourse. This is true in most forms of native advertising, not just social media influencer posts.

For example, the FTC recently settled with Warner Bros. for their own undisclosed influencer campaign. The FTC targeted Youtube star PewDiePie, but Warner Bros. paid the price – literally.

Campaigns of Shame

Fortunately for the company, the price wasn’t very high. That may be part of the problem with the recurring failure to label posts as ads when required. Warner Bros. should now be educating influencers and refusing to pay those who don’t clearly label their promotions as advertisements, but there is no significant fee or penalty for not doing so.

So far, both the FTC and Truth in Advertising are holding a campaign of shame. In lieu of penalties and fees, both entities appear to be trying to hold companies and influencers accountable by embarrassing them with their audiences. Kim Kardashian doesn’t want her huge fanbase to think she is a fraud. And companies certainly don’t want any negative publicity from a celebrity’s deceptive advertising.

Now only time, and thousands more ads, will prove if the lesson sticks this way. If not, it’s likely that swifter, harsher punishment is on the way.

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