You probably have seen or heard of Pinterest contests before. Brands encourage users to pin their favorite images of the brand in exchange for a chance to win some prize. Cole Haan ran one of these Pinterest contests recently asking Pinterest users to pin images of shoes with the hashtag #WanderingSole. What seems like a pretty innocuous contest turned into a heated debate about whether Cole Haan should have asked pinners to disclose that they were pinning images in order to win $1,000. This eventually led to a warning from the FTC to Cole Haan about not being up front with Pinterest users. Click on the image below for the full letter:
What Is The Right Punishment for Cole Haan?
Who knows, as is the case with many of these online advertising cases where there are no clear rules about how to properly disclose advertising-related information. To get the courts involved would have been timely and costly on the part of the FTC, so this letter serves as an official warning that this was a big no-no for Cole Haan. The FTC claims that Cole Haan violated its “material connection” principle which stipulates that people who have been incentivized by the brand to promote the brand must say so when they are speaking about the brand. The backlash on social media and major advertising publications like Adweek picking up the story is probably enough “punishment” to Cole Haan.
Monitoring Tweets, Pins, and All Social Media
If you are a business using social media to run contests or any type of social media promotion, this letter by the FTC can be construed as a “you better start checking every single Tweet, Pin, and Facebook update by your fans and followers to make sure they comply with the FTC.” Taken to its extreme, should the users who pinned images for Cole Haan made the hashtag something ridiculous like:
Sure this is the “legal” way to do things, but is impractical in the sense that people say whatever the heck they want to on social media. We think that there has to be major infrastructural changes to Pinterest (and other social media platforms) when a business or brand is clearly soliciting its fans and followers to do something with a financial incentive. Perhaps the interface is different when your business tries to create a contest or the colors looks different when you are including a hashtag that is promotional in nature.
Cole Haan has already taken the first step and updated its social media policy to reflect the FTC’s letter.
To Disclose or Not Disclose Sponsorships
No matter what type of advertising your company utilizes, adding the proper disclosure when your advertisements are mixed in with regular editorials is a no-brainer. It’s always better to err on the safe side here, and adding this simple one sentence can save your website (if you run an online publication) from getting hurt by Google or the FTC.