The current lamb to the slaughter is luxury shoes and accessories brand Cole Haan. They ran a Pinterest contest where they asked fans to create a Wandering Sole board featuring several images of products from their line. They were told to put #wanderingsole on the photos so they could be easily searched. (Also, it’s pretty much the only way to pick a winner.)
The FTC felt that the contest violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act which deals with unfair or deceptive acts. How was it deceptive? In a letter discussing their findings the FTC said that the average person wouldn’t realize the pins were incentivized and so they would naturally conclude that the pins were a personal endorsement of the product by the pinner.
As you know (or should know), the FTC requires all ads to be clearly labeled as ads and bloggers are required to state when they’ve been given a product or payment in return for a review. The rule is there because we believe that people would lie about what they like if incentivized to do so.
In this case, people might post photos of Cole Haan shoes even if they haven’t tried the brand. That may sound nefarious but it’s not. I don’t have to be a fan of the brand to want to win a $1,000 shopping spree. If all it takes to enter is building a wish list, then I’m there. You can’t require a person to buy something in order to enter the contest, so what else can you do?
Besides, the whole point of the contest is to spread images of the product all over the web so you wouldn’t want to include only current customers in the mix.
Here’s the big issue: even though Cole Haan required a hashtag for entry, the FTC says that wasn’t a clear enough marker. They wanted more.
Moreover, we were concerned that Cole Haan did not instruct contestants to label their pins and Pinterest boards to make it clear that they had pinned Cole Haan products as part of a contest. We do not believe that the “#WanderingSole” hashtag adequately communicated the financial incentive- a material connection-between contestants and Cole Haan.
Let’s think about this. It’s hard enough getting people to enter contests. The more you ask them to do, the fewer people will enter. Creating a board is a big job. If the pinner had to label every image no one would enter. The whole point of Pinterest is that it’s easy to share from person to person and from Cole Haan’s website to Pinterest. Imagine having to save each image, use a photo editor to add legal text, then reupload everything just for the chance at winning a prize.
It’s not going to happen. Plus, the person that has that kind of time on their hands is not the customer Cole Haan is after.
I appreciate that the FTC is trying to keep the internet safe for everyone who plays here but I think people also have to take some responsibility for their own actions. If someone buys a $300 pair of shoes just because they THOUGHT their friend’s pin was a personal recommendation, they have a problem and it’s not one you, me or the FTC can fix.
Lucky for everyone, the FTC decided they weren’t going to press the matter but they want this to stand as a fair warning to all. Seems to me, the only way you can avoid this kind of trouble for sure is not to run any contests, ads or social media channels at all.