With FTC on alert, Kardashians back down on rule-skirting social media plugs

Thanks to some new scrutiny, Kim Kardashian West is coming clean on Instagram. She's now clearly marking her sponsored and paid posts as advertising-- something she didn't do last year when she got in trouble for an Instagram post promoting Duchesnay’s Diclegis morning sickness drug. 

Last month, she--and the rest of her family--began marking posts that promote products with “#ad” at the beginning.

It’s been a long time coming. Kardashian West first got in trouble with the FDA last summer for an Instagram paid post about Diclegis that wasn’t labeled as a paid ad and also neglected to give risk and benefit information.

This time, though, it's another group coming down on the celebrity. Consumer watchdog group TruthInAdvertising.org sent the entire Kardashian clan a letter warning on Aug. 17 saying it was planning to report the family to the FTC unless it started labeling endorsed social media as advertising.

The change is likely to impact future pharma posts, with Khloe Kardashian recently becoming the spokesperson for Allergan’s ($AGN) double-chin treatment Kybella. She has not written about the product on Instagram to date.

The FTC has been wrestling about what to do on the issue of unmarked social media advertising for years, The New York Times reports. Sponsorships and paid endorsements have moved increasingly to social media and the influencers there without much oversight or many penalties. The lucrative payouts--$75,000 for an Instagram or Snapchat post for people with three to 7 million followers--have drawn interest from influencers, but those influencers also fear turning off followers with overt advertising.

The FDA, which oversees pharma’s social media marketing, is actually ahead of the FTC in this area, Doug Weinbrenner--vice president and engagement strategy director at Area 23, an FCB Health company--told FiercePharmaMarketing.

“The FDA guidance has been around for two years. It’s just now the FTC is joining the FDA, and looking at the issue from a much broader perspective, not just drugs, but all commercial commercials. How do we clamp down on paid product promotion?” he said. “The FDA was a little bit of a trailblazer, believe it or not, for a governing body to put out guidance.”

While pharma companies currently don’t do a lot of influencer marketing in social media--the Kardashian West Diclegis FDA slapdown may have had a chilling effect--Weinbrenner said he expects to see more cases of celebrities and patient advocates, for instance, wade into social media endorser marketing.

But thanks to the published FDA guidelines, pharma companies have clear rules about what they need if they're going to do so.

“I think the FDA has said what it’s going to say about influencer marketing and user generated content. It was short but sweet and it’s pretty clear,” Weinbrenner said. “No matter which way you slice it, it’s all about being transparent.”

- read NYT article (sub. req.)

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