Undisclosed advertising misadventures on TikTok

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Two hands shake under a table.
Under-the-table deals are not uncommon, but that doesn’t make them right. Mustafa_Fahd via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Not revealing that you’re advertising something is illegal

Have you ever heard of Bloom Nutrition? 

Maybe you don’t know the name, but you know what it looks like. 

Picture this: a woman standing at a counter wearing athleisure, Lululemon probably. There’s a song playing in the background while she dumps a green powder the color of algae into a glass of water before mixing it together with a milk frother.  

Her caption reads #bloompartner. 

Had you been scrolling through social media, you would have just been shown an advertisement without being told it was an advertisement. 

This is called failure to disclose an advertisement and it is illegal.  

In the United States, the group in charge of setting laws for advertising is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to the FTC, “Required disclosures must be clear and conspicuous.” Disclosure means explaining a situation that people may be unaware of. 

Within that, if a creator or influencer has any financial relationship with a company, they must disclose that. Even if they were given the product for free, they must disclose.  

This has to be done in the video, not just in the caption. People can only disclose solely using a partner hashtag in the caption if a) it is a space-limited platform like X where you only have so many words and b) it’s a text-only platform.  

With TikTok’s recent upgrade to 2,200 character limits in captions, it’s no longer space-limited. If an ad is in a video, like on TikTok, the disclosure has to be on-screen long enough for people to see and read it. 

One more time for a really important detail in there: if given a product for free, they must disclose that.  

What about those paid partnership tags you can add on TikTok or Instagram? Do those count as proper disclosure? Nope! It still needs to be in your TikTok post either audibly, visibly, or both, or clearly in your Instagram caption. 

Disclosure is also required here in Canada, according to Ad Standards. The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards states as much: “No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals the fact that it is an advertisement.” What does that mean for TikTok influencers who use #bloompartner in their captions? It means they aren’t properly disclosing advertisements and it’s a big problem on the platform.  

If you don’t believe me, the FTC even sent out letters in November of 2023 to TikTok dieticians, many of whom promoted Bloom Nutrition using #bloompartner, telling them to start properly disclosing paid ads.  

Influencer @michellebellexo stated in a video back in May of 2023 that Bloom asked her to just have the product somewhere in her video, telling her she didn’t have to talk about it at all, and they would pay her for it. Another influencer, @judyhoppsl0vr69, shared a video in which he posted a screenshot of an email he got from Bloom saying that if he “incorporate[d] [their] superfood greens powder into [his] daily videos” he would get free product and a paid commission.  

A lot of popular creators are not disclosing their Bloom advertisements, including popular chef Tini, Spencer Barbosa, Grandma Droniak, Alix Earle, Sarah Klait, Hailee and Kendra, among many others. If you see a rogue container of Bloom in a video, odds are the creator was paid to have Bloom there and isn’t telling you that. 

Bloom partners aren’t the only TikTokers failing to disclose. 

Chris Olsen is huge on TikTok. With 12 million followers, he’s everywhere. Every red carpet, every Megan Trainor TikTok, everywhere

He doesn’t disclose ads. 

On November 30, he posted a TikTok saying, “GOING WHEREVER THIS FILTER LANDS ON:” and the filter popped up as Sydney, Australia. He freaked out about going to Sydney so spontaneously. Throughout the entire one minute and 20 second video, he panics about going to Sydney, saying he’s questioning his life choices and banging his head against a wall. 

TikTokker @aliceisgratified noticed a few things that seemed off about Olsen suddenly going to Australia and it not seeming so sudden.  

Within a few days of Olsen’s post was the Australian TikTok Awards. Within a few hours, the official TikTok account of Sydney posted an itinerary for Olsen since he was going to Sydney for “no reason” and had “nothing to do.”  

Alice, who works in marketing, noted that it takes a lot longer than a few hours for a company like City of Sydney to make a social media post. The only way they would have had that time is if they knew Olsen was coming.  

WAToday, an Australian news site, confirmed that Tourism Australia spent $90,000 to fly out three TikTokers for a trip.  

Olsen was paid at least $30,000 for a video viewed over 34 million times. Tourism Australia stated they told the influencers to disclose the advertisement, yet none of them did. 

Olsen was told to disclose and didn’t. He led his audience to believe he took an impromptu trip across the world for no good reason when he was paid for it. 

Moving on, have you ever seen those ‘aesthetic’ restocking videos where people remove grocery items from original containers into new, carefully curated containers? Or when they create tens of different kinds of ice specifically for the ice drawer in their freezer? 

Some make money off that and don’t tell you. 

For example, Kelsey Venkov has a video on her channel with 12 million views where she reorganizes her completely empty fridge. For starters, why is her fridge completely empty with nothing in it? She’s trying to sell you a lifestyle of perfection, aesthetics, and organization. One that is unreasonable for most people.  

She does it for money. All the items she uses can be found in the link in her bio linking to her Amazon storefront. She gets paid simply for clicking the link. She gets paid when things from her storefront are bought to try and match her lifestyle. But, Venkov doesn’t tell you that. 

According to both Amazon and the FTC, anyone sharing Amazon Affiliate links needs to say, somewhere easily viewable, that they are paid when anyone clicks their links or buys something on their storefront.  

But, when you watch Venkov’s video with 10 million views, she has a whooping 23 hashtags in her caption along with the phrase, “Will link containers on my amazon [sic].” Not one of her hashtags is an affiliate disclosure, and, even if it was, it still wouldn’t comply with FTC guidelines from being so hidden in other hashtags.  

Only when you click on her Amazon Storefront does it say, “Earns Commissions,” but Venkov didn’t put that there, Amazon did. 

TikTok influencers actively go against FTC guidelines in their advertisements and make money by deceiving their audience about their intentions.  

Beware of Bloom Nutrition, it’s probably an ad. Beware of restocking and organization videos, they try to get you to buy what they use so they can earn money. Beware videos from big TikTokers that seem like strange decisions, they probably got paid for it. 

If you want to be an influencer, remember to disclose your ads. 

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