In spring 2020, several large, family-friendly TikTok accounts posted videos where they pulled pranks on their friends and family members. They all used toys from Basic Fun!’s Joker Prank Shop line, and all of the videos prominently featured them buying the merchandise at their local Walmart.
The posts sure seemed like ads, but few of them indicated that their creators were paid to promote the toys to an especially vulnerable audience: kids. Many of the creators themselves were kids.
But they were ads, according to Influencer Marketing Factory, an agency that took credit for the campaign on its website and its own TikTok account. Influencer Marketing Factory bills itself as “the influencer marketing expert” and did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The company says it has done TikTok campaigns for everything from fitness apps to mushroom coffee. Some influencers labeled those posts as ads or partnerships. Many didn’t. All of them should have, according to truth in advertising rules that are supposed to be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general.
@shilohandbros Never start a prank war with your sister. You will always lose 😂🙈 #thejokerprankshop ♬ original sound - Shiloh&Elijah Nelson
Very few parties seem interested in knowing or following the rules. So much so that a marketing agency seems perfectly comfortable displaying what appear to be violations of them that it helped to create. The two TikTok accounts whose posts were featured in the agency’s Joker Prank Shop case study, @shilohandbros and @haueterfamily, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Walmart told Recode it wasn’t involved in the ad campaign at all, and Basic Fun! said it no longer worked with Influencer Marketing Factory and was trying to have the case study removed from its site.
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