Gini Dietrich

A Social Media Contest, Cole Haan, Pinterest, and the Rules

By: Gini Dietrich | July 28, 2014 | 

A Social Media Contest, Cole Haan, Pinterest, and the RulesAt last count, Pinterest had 53 million unique users a month.

With all those enthusiastic pinners, you might think building a social media contest around people pinning and creating boards would be a no-brainer for  most organizations.

That’s what Cole Haan thought when it launched its pin-it-to-win social media contest, which offered a $1,000 shopping spree in exchange for creating boards titled Wandering Sole.

The social media contest rules were straightforward: Pin a minimum of five images from the brand’s Wandering Sole Pinterest board, add photos of your favorite places to wander, and use the hashtag #WanderingSole.

On the surface, it looks like a successful campaign. It has ambassadors creating their own content around the brand’s shoes and it drives traffic to the brand’s Pinterest page…and, ultimately, its website.

In addition, using the hashtag allows the campaign to cross platforms, particularly Twitter and Facebook, and lets users cross-promote on Instagram.

Enter the FTC

But the social media contest came under scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for not requiring participants to disclose their affiliation with the brand (which is the law). It determined the pins were an endorsement of the brand’s products, which require disclosure.

While the pinners themselves are not in trouble, the brand is under fire for not requiring contestants to disclose that their pins were part of a contest to win a significant amount of money and because the #WanderingSole hashtag wasn’t disclosed as part of the contest.

The FTC determined Cole Haan had violated Section 5 of the FTC Act and issued a closing letter, which is like a formal warning, rather than having to fight it out in court.

The brand’s marketing team likely didn’t consider the implications of disclosure when they implemented the campaign. It’s a grave mistake any organization could make; the best way to protect your business is to know the rules.

Four Rules for a Social Media Contest

Michael Lasky, co-chair of the litigation practice and public relations attorney at Davis & Gilbert, offers four things brands should consider when launching a social media contest, particularly if that platform is Pinterest.

  1. Pinning may constitute an endorsement of a product or organization. If there is an endorsement possibility, ask people to disclose why they’re talking about your brand.
  2. Entry into a sweepstakes or contest requires disclosure. If nothing else, err on the side of caution and ask contestants to disclose.
  3. Understand the terms and services of the social networks—all of them—before launching a contest. While this contest was held on Pinterest, it did cross platforms so now the company is responsible for updates made by contestants on any social networks.
  4. The FTC is closely scrutinizing the business use of a social media contest. Even if you’re not a big, well-known brand, they could very easily come after you, particularly if your contest gains traction.

The best rule of thumb is to disclose, disclose, disclose.

You cannot, of course, dictate what everyone posts on the social networks, nor can you control what every person says, but if your guidelines or rules state contestants must disclose they are participating to win a prize, you will be covered should the FTC come knocking.

A version of this first appeared in my monthly OpenForum column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Hmmm…..this makes Pinterest-based contests sound a lot more complicated than they would appear on the surface. I have a nuts and bolts question — literally how would the disclosure happen? (I ask b/c I’ve entered similar contests and not sure there was disclosure involved) … is it something that would be appended to each pin related to the contest? Thx!

  • 1) I still cannot pin anything without saying “pin it to win it” as I do. Every day when I pin our blog posts, I say. I say it all the time. I just can’t stop myself. It’s seriously a problem.

    2) I hope that Cole Haan marketing teams gets REALLY good discounts on shoes because they are always dealing with one social media stress out or another. Poor “soles.”

    3) I think very few organizations or individuals really think through disclosures, rules, regs, etc. when dealing with social media. I’m really glad these regulatory organizations are starting to crack down because I think it will help clean up the shared space and hopefully push out some of the quacks and scammers and say to people “hey, this isn’t just something you hire an intern  to do in their free time.”

    I think it will make the space better overall.

  • LauraPetrolino YAY! Word play on a Monday! Let’s get this party of a week started! 🙂

  • Gini Dietrich

    And Pinterest is great!

  • biggreenpen LauraPetrolino You know it! Whoop! Whoop!

  • Laura Petrolino

    PIN IT TO WIN IT!!!!

  • Ellie Pierce


  • Laura Petrolino

    All I do is win, win, win! (name that tune!)

  • I wonder how much of the Pinterest thing has to do with “people” consider different social media platforms as different media and therefore not subject to FTC regulations?

    It reminds me a little of political advertising. In most states you must disclose who paid for an ad. Yet, at the newspaper, I would have people tell me “I thought that was just TV.” No, it’s TV, radio, print, billboards, campaign signs, campaign literature, etc.

    Same with contests. Its Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, all of them…

  • What you’re saying is that you like Pinterest? Who knew?

  • It’s driving me nuts that no one has named that tune (and I refuse to google it). I can hear it in my head, I think it’s on one of my running playlists. Sigh.

  • biggreenpen I LOVE PINTEREST!!

  • biggreenpen You could say something like, “I’m pinning to win a great, big prize!” I’m pinning to win an olive oil mister with my name on it!

  • LauraPetrolino Some days, Laura, I just sit here and laugh at you.

  • ClayMorgan Really? If that’s the case, I’m going to cry.

  • And I didn’t even think you liked Pinterest @Gini Dietrich…:).

    Disclose, transparency, accountability; none of it sounds like a bad thing to me.

  • ginidietrich biggreenpen Gotcha! Thx! I would say the allure of a prize like that would be multiplied if it were delivered by the USPS. Slowly. Laboriously. 🙂

  • Yay, Michael Lasky!
    Every few days I get an email saying someone somewhere has repinned a photo of Morrissey from my boards (or whatever they’re called). I should go back and there sometime and see what’s up. The most popular things I’ve done on every social media platform are all off-message.

  • biggreenpen ginidietrich When you create a board, you name the board and write a description for it. I would imagine that disclosing in the board description would be sufficient (rather than on each individual pin) but before I launch my next Pinterest contest you can bet I’ll double-check on that!

  • LauraPetrolino ” I’m really glad these regulatory organizations are starting to crack down because I think it will help clean up the shared space and hopefully push out some of the quacks and scammers and say to people “hey, this isn’t just something you hire an intern  to do in their free time.” <<< ABSOLUTELY. I’ve worked with some of the people running the social media departments at agencies, and many of them are so young/inexperienced they’re completely unaware of disclosure requirements. It’s not even that they don’t think the rules apply to them – they’ve never heard of the rules.

  • Eleanor Pierce I would be interested in what you find out. I’ve participated in several “pin stuff to get entered to win” kinds of things and don’t ever recall receiving instructions re: disclosure (and I’m kind of a stickler for that type of thing so I know if it had been recommended/required I would have done it….)

  • biggreenpen Yeah, I know the song, too – sort of. I see it used in viral videos. That part of the song is the only part I know.

  • biggreenpen Eleanor Pierce It’s really interesting – I don’t think it’s widely known/understood. It may have been in some fine print somewhere, but I doubt it. 
    I’ve also heard that when you’re working with bloggers (say, for sponsored posts), not only are you required to tell them to disclose, but you’re also required to do your due diligence to make sure they actually do the disclosures. I’d can’t imagine that wouldn’t also be the case with everyone who participates in your social contest … perhaps it should be a requirement for the winners you select though.

  • bobledrew

    LauraPetrolino biggreenpen Mind your tongues, you heels.

  • RobBiesenbach He’s our attorney and he rocks. I heart him.

  • bdorman264 I LOVE PINTEREST!!!!!!

  • ginidietrich LauraPetrolino 🙂

  • bobledrew LauraPetrolino biggreenpen BOOM! See Bob, this is why we are friends!

  • Eleanor Pierce LauraPetrolino Exactly! It’s kind of scary. The great thing about social media is that anyone *can* do it. The horrible thing about social media is that anyone *can* do it.!

  • LauraPetrolino bobledrew biggreenpen Stop encouraging one another!

  • This is so helpful! I was just talking with a friend last week about the rules for contests on Facebook.

    And LauraPetrolino “poor soles” LOL. I’m easily amused. 😉

    Link to the song (DJ Khaled): Did you see Emma Stone lip sync this on Fallon? Hil-ar-i-ous.

  • And doesn’t JT do a riff on this in his “Bring it on down to …” SNL skits

  • ginidietrich LauraPetrolino bobledrew biggreenpen um, it may be too late. I’m apparently in Laura’s clutches today. I combed my hair and everything. 😉

  • Eleanor Pierce I have never gotten a Pinterest-based sponsored opportunity, but the blog-based ones I do are VERY PRESCRIPTIVE re: the disclosure language, where it is placed, etc. It is getting increasingly specific as time goes by. Curious about Pinterest …

  • Jen Novotny I saw Emma Stone do that. I heart her so much!

  • ginidietrich Yup, met him at Counselors Academy — he’s a fellow reformed thespian.

  • ginidietrich I heart her AND Jimmy Fallon. AND Justin Timberlake. 😉

  • ginidietrich Oh no, this is bad. I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole of Jimmy Fallon videos. The one with lip sync contest with Paul Rudd?? I LOVE Paul Rudd!

  • Jen Novotny LauraPetrolino OMG! I totally posted the lyrics to that on our Facebook page! HAHAHA! LOVE IT!

  • bobledrew

    ginidietrich LauraPetrolino bobledrew biggreenpen But I want to pump you up. If I see an opportunity to make a pun, I’ll sneak ‘er in at all costs.

  • I wonder who ratted them out to the FTC. Good lessons here for all of us, and all platforms.

  • A most excellent post dude!

    I shared this with some brands I know that run contests. If you automate the contest kind of like how shareaholic automates blog tweets you can ensure people know it is a contest. This is an extension of the FCC ruling about sponsored tweets.

    I still hold it against guykawasaki when in 2009 he was a 5 to follow from Ad Age and I was retweeting his content from alltop and then Business Week had an article on this subject where Kim Kardashian got $10k to tweet she loves a hand bag and Guy was paid $800 a tweet for influence purposes. And when I asked him he ignored me so I unfollowed and to this day my joke is ‘Who is Guy Kawasaki’ and since then in fall 2009 anyone who links an AllTop link in my feed I unfollow, block them then report them as a spammer. All for this deception. I felt conned. But for contests this is an interesting extension of that rule.

    That said I wonder if the FCC would be best to issue firm rules and penalties and then let the people police things. I have a few times reacted to things I thought were on the level only to find they weren’t and I felt conned. So they could easily set up a program with a hotline email address:

    Take a screen shot. Email to busted@fcc and if confirmed you will get a $50 gift card!

  • belllindsay I think the FTC is probably monitoring this kind of stuff pretty closely.

  • Jen Novotny RIGHT?!?! If you loved him before, you know triple love him. Wait until you see the Jimmy Fallon video I have for this week’s Gin and Topics.

  • biggreenpen @Gini Dietrich I ran a pinterest account for a client through last december and found so many great pieces of content but when that work ended I just never went back. Not sure why.

  • Howie Goldfarb You’re missing out!

  • JoshuaJLight

    Holy smokes.  I’m sure a lot of people are violating this law (unknowingly).

  • JoshuaJLight I think you’re right. That’s why we do so much of this here… education!

  • susancellura

    I just read an editorial in the WSJ about how the FTC is using Section 5 to gain access to IT departments of corporations that have been hacked, i.e., the victims.

  • I actually just referred to this article again today because we’re discussing a Facebook contest. Not entirely the same, but similar. Facebook really seems to have scaled back on their rules for promotions. I wish the FTC would clarify what they want to see if the disclosures.