Welcome to “Is This an Ad?,” a column in which we take a celebrity social media post about a brand or product and find out if they’re getting paid to post about it or what. Because even though the FTC recently came out with rules on this, it’s not always clear. Send a tip for ambiguous tweets or ‘grams to email@example.com.
Soccer star David Beckham posted an Instagram where he’s awkwardly sitting in front of a strange desk or table in front of a blank wall. I’m guessing it’s a hotel room of sorts – he has a Goyard toiletries-sized bag and a copy of Widow Basquiat, a biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s girlfriend, propped up on some brown thing (the hotel room service menu, perhaps?). And quite noticeably… you can see a bottle of green lotion with the label turned sideways, too small to read. Whatever that bottle is… is this an ad for it?
Note the green bottle. Is this a low-key ad?
David Beckham is no stranger to endorsement deals. He’s a soccer star, and athlete endorsements for sports apparel or sneakers is completely normal to most people – nobody bats an eye or thinks a player is a “sell out” if they’re in a Nike ad.
Beckham is one of the most famous athletes ever, and he’s done endorsement deals for many, many brands, including Adidas, H&M, Burger King, Gillette, and Motorola, and lots more. He does TV and print ads for these things, very classic and recognizable advertising. He doesn’t do sneaky or lame diet tea ads.
Ok, you should know this: David Beckham is the ambassador of the Biotherm Homme skincare line, and the lotion pictured in his instagram (even if it’s hard to tell) is their Aquapower Gel moisturizer.
But that doesn’t make the answer totally clear either, right? Is this meant to be an ad, or does he just happen to randomly have his bottle of moisturizer (let’s assume he truly uses the stuff) on his hotel nightstand next to his book before he goes to bed? It’s not so unreasonable you or I would randomly have moisturizer and a toiletries bag in the background of a hotel selfie, right?
Plus, he doesn’t mention the name of the moisturizer in his caption, it just appears in the background, so small you can’t even read the label.
There’s one other piece of information you should know: PR for L’Oréal sent BuzzFeed a press alert about this particular Instagram, touting how the brand’s ambassador uses the cream in his relaxing nightly routine. Again, that doesn’t mean that they paid him to post that instagram, but he does have an endorsement deal with them.
I asked L’Oréal what “ambassador” means, and they explained that he has a longstanding relationship with the company, is the face of Biotherm Homme, and has a deal to develop his own product line in the future.
So basically, Beckham has some skin in the game (heh) – he’s not just getting paid a lump sum to do one TV ad. The better this product sells, the better for him.
Here’s what L’Oréal told me:
L’Oréal’s policy is to respect all disclosure obligations for endorsements. David Beckham is the global face of Biotherm Homme, appearing in all media, but while Beckham’s Instagram post shows a Biotherm product on his desk behind him in the background, this appearance was not obligated.
According to them, this isn’t an “ad” per se, because they didn’t ASK him to post it.
Then I asked Bonnie Patten, a lawyer and executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Truth In Advertising. “The FTC law is quite clear,” Patton said. “If there is a material connection between the endorser and the product, then that needs to be disclosed.”
Ok, but what about this particular post? Patten said: “we would look at an Instagram post like this and say it’s Mr. Beckham's responsibility and the responsibility of the company to make sure that consumers are informed that he has a material connection to this product.”
So according to an industry watchdog group, it’s an ad and should be disclosed. In this case, I’m giving a ruling to the watchdog group instead of the brand. It’s an ad.
Ironically, I asked a friend to help identify the book in the photo, and he had read it and recommended it highly, so I ordered it on Amazon. This was a tremendously effective ad, but for the book instead of the men’s moisturizer.
A previous version of this post misspelled Ms. Patten's last name.