Octavia Spencer in Legal Dispute with Sensa over a Twitter Hashtag

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  • For those who believe that a Hollywood actress would do practically anything in an endorsement deal, Octavia Spencer has filed a lawsuit that suggests otherwise, notes The Hollywood Reporter in the below exclusive.

    Spencer, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 2011′s “Help,” says that when she agreed to endorse Sensa Products, she made it clear that she would only promote a “healthier lifestyle” and not significant weight loss. She says she passed up a $3 million offer from another weight loss company to take Sensa’s $1.25 million one (with an additional $100,000 going to charity) because the company agreed to various stipulations, including that the ad campaign wouldn’t focus on significant weight transformation, wouldn’t use before and after photographs and wouldn’t be placed in tabloid magazines or on gossip websites.

    But according to a breach-of-contract and fraud lawsuit filed on Wednesday in L.A. Superior Court, the ad campaign didn’t go so well, and at some point, after the actress had lived up to her side of the agreement by losing the contractually required amount of weight, Sensa began “scheming” to extradite itself from paying the actress.

    Among Sensa’s alleged actions was sending the actress a termination notice dated Aug. 6 that claimed Spencer was in breach of her agreement by insisting upon adding the hashtag “#spon” (meaning “sponsor”) at the end of her tweets for the diet product company. “Sensa manufactures and markets a diet product designed to trick one’s brain,” says Spencer’s lawsuit. “Therefore, it’s not surprising that it would manufacture allegations against its most prominent spokesperson, Octavia Spencer.”

    To understand the allegations concerning the tweets, it’s necessary to know that in October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission promulgated new guidelines that made it clear that “celebrities have a duty to disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media.” Since then, some careful celebrities on Twitter have been using hashtags like #spon or #paid so as to avoid confusion over tweets that stem from promotional relationships.

    There is, of course, a downside to doing this: Labeling tweets as sponsored might make for less effective product pitches. In Spencer’s endorsement agreement with Sensa Products, which is provided in part in the complaint, there’s a provision that’s titled “Social Media Legal Compliance,” that is meant to “ensure that all social media content created and/or published by [Spencer] comply with all relevant laws, regulations and rules including, without limitation the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and testimonial in advertising (i.e., including disclosure language such as #SPON) …” And so, Spencer posted tweets like the following: “Bet you’ve seen my @SensaWeightloss commercials & wondered if it’s the real deal? I’m here to say it works! #spon”

    In the termination letter that was sent to Spencer last month, she was allegedly blamed for the failed advertising campaign. Her failure to get a half-dozen tweets pre-approved and her insistence on using “#spon” were said in the letter to have constituted a material breach of her endorsement contract. But the lawsuit implies that this was some kind of pretext for getting out of paying the $700,000 remaining on her million-dollar contract.

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