Welcome to “Is This an Ad?” — a column in which we take a celebrity’s 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Here we have a tweet about heartburn pill Pepcid from Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the actor from the hit tv show Modern Family:
A Facebook group for fans of the celebrity gossip podcast Who? Weekly flagged this tweet for me because they couldn't figure it out. Keep in mind, these are people who live and breathe celebrities on social media, and they're very savvy about whether or a tweet or Instagram post is #spon or not. So if this had them stumped, it's a real stumper!
Saying that the giant, grotesque meal you're about to eat is “sponsored by Pepcid” is obviously a joke, right? I can totally imagine making that joke myself (almost). Overindulging on Shake Shake burgers so much that you need stomach medicine is the kind of thing people would make a self-deprecating joke about. Like if you posted a picture of yourself looking really hungover and captioned it, “sponsored by Jose Quervo and bad decisions.”
If it ISN'T a joke, then it's clearly an ad – the disclosure “I teamed up w/ PEPCID” is pretty clear that this is a spokesperson relationship. And though the FTC has recently cracked down on people doing sort of tricky things like saying “#sp” instead of “#sponsored” or using obfuscation to hide the #ad hashtag at the end of a super long caption, there isn't an official hard and fast rule on exactly what language someone MUST use. The idea is that it should be clear if you are working for the brand, and I think “I teamed up with [brand]” is clear enough disclosure.
Usually when I'm investigating a celebrity's social media post, the confusion is over whether the celeb's disclosure is clear to the average person. But this is different – the big question here is: Is this an ad, or just a cheesy dad joke?
To find out once and for all, I reached out to Johnson & Johnson, which owns the Pepcid brand. “We know that Jesse can be quite the jokester, but lucky for us, he relies on PEPCID® to treat his frequent heartburn and he agreed to team up with us!” said a J&J spokesperson. “As he disclosed per FTC guidelines, this post is part of our partnership agreement – he’s been a paid spokesperson for the brand since 2016.”
There you have it folks. Sometimes a dad joke is really an ad.