ESPN Forgets to Identify Social Media Ads

The Federal Trade Commission's guidelines are clear: when people are paid to write social media posts that relationship must be disclosed. This applies to company employees. Two incidents this week show companies skirting those rules. 

ESPN employees tweeted about Dominos, but didn't disclose their relationship to ESPN. By law, the tweets should include #ad or #spon to identify a sponsored ad.

ESPN ads

ESPN responded to a request by Deadspin, calling the tweets an "error": 

ESPN says this is all a mistake and that future tweets associated with Domino's ad buy with the network will be compliant with federal law. Which is fine, though we're still skeptical that New Year's Eve means either college football or pizza-and so were the millions of fans who didn't tune in for this year's college football playoff games.

Yet, a couple of days later, an ESPN journalist tweeted another advertisement. The company has argued that journalists aren't paid endorsers, and a Wall Street Journal article explains, "the issue of whether [ESPN's] roster of pundits and anchors are journalists guided by traditional editorial strictures or entertainers allowed to hawk products has been a thorny one for some time." However, Deadspin argues that Schefter and Mortensen are clearly "personalities," and the connection to the brand is clear.

This issue isn't new. The FTC admonished Cole Han for promotions on Pinterest, and I'm sure others have been caught. 

Discussion Starters:

  • We could argue that identifying ads is just a technicality. Some accuse the FTC of being too snarky about social media posts. What's your opinion on the issue? 
  • Would a hashtag identifying the posts as ad change your perspective on the post? How do you think fans would be influenced either way?