Pinterest Contests – a Warning from the FTC

pinterest-contest-ftcPinterest Contests were once the wild, wild west. Pretty much anything went. “Pin it to win it”? Sure! “Pin this contest rules image”? Why not?! But, as Pinterest has matured, so has its contest rules. Even more noteworthy, the FTC is starting to scrutinize contests on Pinterest.

Most of the rules published on Pinterest’s own site seem to have the goal of keeping Pinterest from becoming a spammy mess. I think we can all get behind that.

The “Don’t require people to add Pins from a selection,” rule has given rise to many questions. Does that mean you can’t require that entrants pin from your boards or website? Consensus is that you can suggest they pin from your site or boards, but not require that they pin one specific image.

The “don’t call it a “Pin it to win it” contest” rule may just be an attempt to protect their branding. What do you think?

Below the list of “Don’ts,” however, is a notice that is easy to overlook. “If you use Pinterest as part of a contest or sweepstakes, you are responsible for making sure it complies with all legal requirements.” That’s right – if the FTC or other government entity comes after you, it’s not their fault. Which brings up an interesting letter which shoe giant Cole Haan received last month.

There are Pinterest Rules and Then There’s the FTC

On March 20, 2014, the FTC sent a letter to Cole Haan stating that they had “… violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45, in connection with its Wandering Sole Pinterest Contest.” That section basically states that any endorsement of a brand or product which is given in exchange for compensation (or, apparently, potential compensation) must be disclosed. Yikes. At this time, the FTC is not recommending  enforcement action, partially because this issue of contest entry as endorsement is so brand new.

The letter states that the FTC was “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.” and that they did not “… believe that the “#WanderingSole” hashtag adequately communicated the financial incentive- a material connection- between contestants and Cole Haan.”

Hashtags, Contests, and the FTC

How can Cole Haan and others attempt to stay in compliance with FTC disclosure laws? When running a contest that asks people to share content as part of entry, include a hashtag that indicates the connection.

So, whether on Pinterest, Instagram or anywhere else, instead of just asking for  a natural-sounding hashtag like Cole Haan’s “#WanderingSole,” request that they also add “#ColeHaanContest.” Not only does this potentially cover your obligation to the FTC (no, I’m not a lawyer), but it might have the added benefit of attracting more contest participants! I call that a win-win!

Clearly, the FTC is still hashing out the details of contests, hashtags and endorsements, and since the FTC does have broad powers of enforcement, it’s worth keeping an eye on how this issue develops.

What do you think? Is it still worth running contests on social media, knowing the FTC is watching? If you ARE a lawyer, care to shed any more official light on this one?


Article Name
Could that Pinterest Contest Get You in Hot Water with the FTC?
A letter from the FTC to Cole Haan regarding its Pinterest contest should have us all wondering – how can we make sure our contests don’t get us in trouble?

About the Author Alisa Meredith (311 Posts)

As co-owner and chief inbound marketing consultant at Scalable Social Media, Alisa Meredith spends a lot of time keeping up with online marketing trends for the benefit of our customers. Computers have been a passion of hers since her first T1-99, so inbound and social media marketing is a natural fit.

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