Category Archives: ads

Facebook COO Sandberg Favors Release Of Russia-Linked Ads

MENLO PARK (AP) — A top Facebook executive says ads linked to Russia trying to influence the U.S. presidential election should “absolutely” be released to the public, along with information on whom the ads were targeting. Previously, Facebook declined to make the ads public. While Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, now favors the release, she didn’t say Thursday when the company would do so. The company disclosed last month that it found ads linked to fake accounts — likely run from Russia — that sought to influence the election. Facebook says these ads focused on divisive political issues, such as immigration and gun rights, in an apparent attempt to sow discord among the U.S. population. The ads included promoted events and amplified posts that show up in users’ news feeds. Facebook has turned over the ads — and information on how they were targeted, such as by geography or to people with a certain political affiliation — to congressional investigators. Congress is also investigating Russia-linked ads on Twitter and Google. In an interview with the news site Axios on Thursday, Sandberg said Facebook has the responsibility to prevent the kind of abuse that occurred on its service during the election. She said Facebook hopes to “set a new standard in transparency in advertising.” But she also said that had the ads been linked to legitimate, rather than fake, Facebook accounts, “most of them would have been allowed to run.” While the company prohibits certain content such as hate speech, it does not want to prevent free expression, she said. “The thing about free expression is that when you allow free expression, you allow free expression,” Sandberg said. The move comes as critics and lawmakers are increasingly calling for the regulation of Facebook and other internet giants. Sandberg is meeting with elected officials in Washington this week ahead of a House hearing at which executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google are expected to testify. Sandberg is no stranger to Washington. Before her time at Google and later Facebook, she worked for Larry Summers, the treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton. Sandberg said Facebook didn’t catch these ads earlier because it was focused on other threats, such as hacking. Facebook, she said, does owe America an apology. “What we really owe the American people is determination” to do “everything we can” to defend against threats and foreign interference, Sandberg said. Sandberg didn’t say whether she believes Facebook played a role in electing Donald Trump as president, as critics have said it did by allowing the spread of fake news on its service. She said only that the role Facebook plays in elections “go beyond any one campaign, any one country.” Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has backtracked from calling the idea of Facebook’s influence on the election “pretty crazy.” Later Thursday, Sandberg met privately with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, where she was pressed on what the company is doing in response to its discovery that many of the ads pushed by Russian-linked accounts were aimed at sowing racial discord. A member of Congress who viewed about 70 of the roughly 3,000 ads told The Associated Press that they were meant to stir up strong emotions on all sides. Some of the ads showed white police officers beating black people, said the member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the ads aren’t yet public. Besides discussing election meddling, the members also pushed for Facebook to improve diversity in its workforce, particularly in its upper management. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat who chairs the caucus, said Sandberg promised to appoint an African-American to the board, a move the caucus and other activists have been pushing for years. Facebook has eight board members, all white. Two, including Sandberg, are women. © Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Kardashians & Jenners Continue Posting Stealth Ads, Despite Warnings

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. Related: After FDA Warning, Kim Kardashian Posts Corrected Endorsement Of Morning Sickness Pill 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.

A Discrepancy

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.”

L.L. Bean Runs Full-Page Ad You Can Only Read In Sunlight

In a move that simultaneously evokes awww-neat childhood memories of “invisible ink” while also marketing an outdoor lifestyle brand, L.L. Bean has taken out a full-page newspaper ad that can only be read in the sunlight. To anyone picking up today’s New York Times and seeing the ad while indoors, it’s a largely blank space with just the Bean logo and four words scattered across the page. “Just bring this outside,” the message instructs. Once the ad is in sunlight — or really, any UV light — more words printed with special photochromic ink appear, revealing L.L. Bean’s “special invitation.”

The secret message is really just L.L Bean’s new manifesto, including feel-good phrases like “Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. And if it’s outside, we’re all in.” Although it’s a neat gimmick, the payoff is a bit of a disappointment compared to the brazenness of the unique technique — but again, people are talking about the ad. We still can’t help but feel a bit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, after he finally gets to use his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin to decipher a top-secret message from Annie to her devotees.

Zuckerberg: Facebook Won’t Be Used ‘To Undermine Democracy’

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Saying he did not want anyone to use Facebook “to undermine democracy,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday announced his company would turn over 3,000 controversial ads purchased by Russians to Congressional investigators. Zuckerberg addressed the criticism leveled at his social platform after it was revealed earlier this month that hundreds of phony Facebook accounts, likely run from Russia, spent about $100,000 on ads aimed at stirring up divisive issues such as gun control and race relations during the 2016 campaign. The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said that Facebook executives should testify as part of its probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and that the social media giant “seems to have been less than forthcoming” with Congress. “Facebook seems to have been less than forthcoming on potentially how they were used,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., adding that it’s “just a question of when, and potentially the scope of what that hearing would be.” Zuckerberg, on his first day back after a paternity leave following the birth of his second child, took to Facebook Thursday to make the announcement. “The integrity of our elections is fundamental to democracy around the world,” he said. “Our teams have found and shut down thousands of fake accounts that could be attempting to influence elections in many other countries, including recently in the French election…I wish I could tell you we are going to be able to stop all interference, but that would’t be realistic.” Zuckerberg admitted Thursday that at first they didn’t think the Russians actually bought ads. “We have been investigating this for many months, and for a while we had found no evidence of fake accounts linked to Russia running ads,” Zuckerberg explained. But on Thursday, he confirmed there were paid ads: more than 3,000 of them. “When we recently uncovered this activity, we provided that information to the special counsel,” Zuckerberg said. “We also briefed Congress — and this morning I directed our team to provide the ads we’ve found to Congress as well.” On Thursday, he said Facebook techs were still looking for any other Russian accounts, and he vowed more transparency going forward. “Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook,” said Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg hinted that the company may not provide much information publicly, saying that the ongoing federal investigation will limit what he can reveal. “As a general rule, we are limited in what we can discuss publicly about law enforcement investigations, so we may not always be able to share our findings publicly,” he said. Hemu Nigam is a cyber-security expert. He told KPIX 5 he’s not buying Facebook’s good guy routine. He said the company is simply trying to save face “The real question we should be asking is, ‘Why is Facebook talking about this now?'” said Nigam. He said the changes Facebook is promising could have been done last year. The company is only acting now because they’re in trouble. “I don’t think it’s so much a trouble in the legal sense, but what you do have is a major reputation issue that they’re going to have to deal with,” said Nigam. He says Facebook’s actions send a message: companies can act and the public will expect them to so. “This should be a message to the entire industry: that you can be proactive,” said Nigam. “And in fact, it’s actually in today’s day and age, a necessity for doing business internationally.”

Feds Warn Lindsay Lohan, Sofia Vergara & Other Instagram Celebs To Stop Their Stealth Social Advertising

The Federal Trade Commission has warned dozens of advertisers against using Instagram “influencers” to push their products and brands without properly disclosing that money changed hands. Now the FTC is going after the celebrities themselves, issuing warning letters to folks that range from merely online-famous to bona fide superstars. On Sept. 6, 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 and that Scott Disick guy who married the least-famous Kardashian sister — who show off clothing, food, alcohol, and other products or services through posts on Instagram. The letters, which were obtained by consumer advocates through a Freedom Of Information Act request, require the influencers to provide the FTC with details on any “material connection” they have to the marketers of these products. The influencers must also provide the agency with an explanation of how they will properly disclose paid relationships with brands in the future.

Déjà Vu

Each of the letters begins the same way, reminding the celebrities that this isn’t the first time the FTC has reached out about their proclivity to post photos of themselves enjoy things like high-end suitcases, skin treatments, sunglasses, watches, and other products and services. Mary Engle, FTC associate director for the division of advertising practices, then reminds the influencers that if they are being paid by a brand to post such photos, they have to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose that relationship. As the agency has made clear in the past, 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 Instagram app. While the FTC does not reiterate these points in the most recent letters — as none of the Instagram posts cited include the #ad hashtag — the agency does point out other ways in which the influencers failed to adequately disclose whether or not they were paid to post the content.

A Tag Is Not Disclosure…

In the case of Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam — better known as the rapper Akon — the FTC points to two Instagram posts (that have since been deleted) involving Ratel Geneva watches. “In both posts you are wearing a watch that you tagged as ‘ratelgeneve,’” the letter states. “The FTC staff believes that tagging a brand is an endorsement of the brand.” If there is a material connection between Akon and the marketer of the tagged brand, then the posts should disclose that connection. Similarly, in a letter to Naomi Campbell, the FTC questions whether the supermodel has connection to luggage maker Globe-Trotter. The supermodel had posted a photo of three pieces of luggage, accompanied by the caption “#onthemove @globe_trotter1897 #wheretonext ?? #omitravelstheworld.” The FTC notes that while the company is tagged in the post, there is not clear disclosure of whether the celebrity has a material connection to the luggage manufacturer.

Neither Is A “Thank You”

When it comes to singer/actress Ciara Wilson, the FTC reminded the celebrity that thanking a brand did not constitute the disclosure of any kind of relationship. For instance, the woman recently posted a picture of three pairs of baby shoes, accompanied by the caption, “Thank You @JonBuscemi.” In the picture, Wilson tagged the shoes “buscemi” and “jonbuscemi.” According to the FTC, the “thank you” is inadequate in disclosing a material connection because it does not sufficiently explain the nature of her relationship to the brand. As with the Akon post, the FTC notes that simply tagging a brand is an endorsement of the brand.

Is It Enough?

As we previously mentioned, this isn’t the first time these influences have been contacted by the FTC. In fact, the agency first contacted the celebrities and pseudo-celebrities, as well as brand marketers, back in March with friendly educational letters asking them to pretty please follow the rules when it comes to paid endorsements. Three months later, the FTC sent warning letters to the brands reminding them that Instagram posts must adequately disclose any “material connection” between an advertiser and an influencer, and that these disclosures be “clear” and “conspicuous.” While the letters didn’t go directly to the Instagram influencers, one might hope and/or assume that warning recipients — including brands like Adidas, Chanel, Dunkin’ Donuts, Puma, and Popeyes — might mean they would pass this concern on to the celebrities who stealth-advertised their products. Whether or not that happened, we don’t know. But we do know that the FTC has now bestowed upon the influencers their own warning letters. Public Citizen, which is part of the coalition that sought the FTC’s letters, notes that the agency’s latest step is a welcome one, but it’s not enough. Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen, said in a statement that the warning letters do not address the “rampant deception” on social media that is only growing. Public Citizen, along with Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Center for Digital Democracy, found in a report [PDF] earlier this year that nearly every single influencer identified by the FTC continued to post Instagram ads without proper disclosures. “Until the FTC takes enforcement action against companies that facilitate influencer marketing, or influencers who post undisclosed ads, the culture around influencer marketing on social media will remain as it is – accepted consumer deception on behalf of profit-driven companies, without consequences,” Strader said.