No, you don't need #ad in influencer content

You can disclose in much more aesthetic ways.

Three little characters. Three ugly, brightly-colored, sore thumb characters.

I’m talking about #ad.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re disclosing (you legally need to), but it’s the most hideous way to let people know a social post is sponsored. And good news—you don’t have to use #ad in influencer sponsorships.

Let’s talk about creator disclosures, what you need to legally say, and more creative ways to cover your bases.

Wait, what? Don’t you have to disclose brand deals?

Yes, you do. Influencers absolutely need to disclose when a brand pays them to talk about product. I’m just saying that doesn’t have to be #ad.

“if you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship (“material connection”) with the brand. A “material connection” to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship – such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.”

Okay, cool, got it. If an influencer’s compensated in any way, they’ve gotta tell their followers the brand threw them a bone. But scroll down that FTC page a little further & you’ll find some freeing language:

“It’s fine (but not necessary) to include a hashtag with the disclosure, such as #ad or #sponsored).”

Straight from the horse’s mouth.

So why does everyone use #ad then?

Simple: #ad is short, sweet, and clear.

Your legal team will have no notes on #ad. It’s plainly marked as paid advertising content. The commission’s pretty unlikely to accuse your brand of misleading consumers if #ad is present. Your battle as a marketer: reminding them it’s not the only was to legally disclose.

#ad is also the shortest disclosure possible. Three characters! On a network like Twitter with character limits, that’ll leave influencers 277 other characters to craft a message. That’s significant and worth considering.

What are more creative ways to disclose partnerships?

I said this up top, but again—influencers don’t have to use a hashtag. They just have to mention they’re compensated, which they can do anywhere in the copy.

I’d argue you specifically shouldn’t use a hashtag. Default text color on social networks is generally black, but they all differentiate hashtags by lighting them up like a Christmas tree. Take this example from a campaign I worked on with Verizon.

See that bright blue #ad? That color pop immediately demands your eye. Do you really want an influencer’s followers first glance to immediately yell THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT? Probably not.

You can just work disclosures into the copy. An example straight from the FTC’s disclosure 101 document: “Thanks to [brand] for the free product.” That’s so much more human than #ad. It displays excited emotion within the disclosure, which’ll get their fans far more excited about the collab.

You can also consider terms like [brand] Partner or [brand] Ambassador for your creators. When I worked with Verizon through the agency R/GA, the company used #VerizonPartner to denote influencer deals (still pretty advertising-y just because they’re telco, but you get how #NikePartner or #MinecraftAmbassador feels more friendly than #ad).

But absolute favorite way to disclose brand deals is naturally woven into the story—not just a “thanks for the product,” but naturally sharing the influencer + brand relationship inside of the content tale. Casually mentioned. I’ve got an example below from my own content.

What’s most important: brands gotta let influencers be as human as possible, including in disclosures. You’ll get more creative output and better results all while checking the legal boxes.

A few disclosure examples from my personal content

While this newsletter’s about social media strategy, I’ve grown my LinkedIn to 50,000 followers based on career growth content—it’s a big passion point of mine. Amazingly, company I’d previously interviewed for reached out to promote their resume builder tool. So, I said exactly that!

I went anecdotal + educational with my sponsored post, talking about why you need multiple resumes during job hunts + how it helped in my career. I transitioned that into talking about the company & the features included in their resume builder before the final paragraph of my 400-word post:

I’ve always liked their mission (grow your career on your terms) and even interviewed with them a few years back. When the company saw my writing about layoffs and finding a job, they asked to sponsor me, which yes, makes this an ad, but I really believe in that Resume Builder tool—it’s slick, easy to use, and muchhh better than the basic templates I know you’re googling. I’ll toss the link in the comments—happy job hunting.”

I disclosed the paid deal within the post, showing how the company supported me. It’s one reason why you’ve gotta find influencers who genuinely enjoy your product—I wasn’t fibbing, I think that resume builder tool is super slick. That naturally cued up readers to be more accepting and curious without feeling like I’m schlepping some brand I don’t believe in.

Here’s one more example that’s especially silly.

So, preface: I started a ridiculous TikTok where I watch episodes of The Office to see how long until Michael Scott commits an HR violation. Fun little experiment that went viral, then grew 30k followers in a week. Then an executive coaching company reached out to me, wanting to strike a partnership to promote their goal-setting workshop. So, I explained to my followers how brand deals meant I could dedicate more time to the idea + how a goal-setting course would get my life in order to make more content. The followers loved it and supported!

Just do me a favor and avoid #ad, yeah?

PS. While you’re here, I’m always curious to work with new brand partners for this newsletter or my social accounts. If you’d like to collaborate or sponsor, give me a shout at [email protected] or reply right to this email.