Monday, December 7, 2009

New FTC guidelines for bloggers are a bigger challenge for marketers

Image via Wikipedia
Changes to FTC (Federal Trade Commission) guidelines on endorsements and testimonials were made active on December 1. And seven days later, I'm happy to report that I, a blogger, have not been sued. Neither, chance are, have you.

There was a huge stink about these proposed changes a few months back. Mob mentality won over common sense, and the assumption was that bloggers were going to be fined $11,000 if they failed to mention the book they just reviewed was purchased from Barnes & Nobel with a 15% coupon.


What do the new guidelines mean for bloggers?

Probably nothing. The overview by the FTC on this page is pretty good, but I think this short PDF of the revised guidelines is even better. And if you want the whole story, check this 81 page PDF. It's overkill, but for the complete-ists out there; have at it. But back to "probably nothing".

The new guidelines -- the first change to the endorsements & testimonials section since 1980 -- require marketers to be honest, forthright and clear when using endorsements and testimonials. What a crazy concept. If you're the endorser or provider of the testimonal -- bloggers, for the purpose of this discussion -- then you have an obligation to do the same and disclose if you were compensated for your endorsement.

Chances are, you already do that. And if you don't; start. It requires you do nothing more than say "Ford let me drive this new car for a week, and here's what I think". Again, you probably do this already.

Marketers are responsible for what compensated endorsers say.

That's the biggest change. If Snapple sends out free samples of a new beverage to specific bloggers as part of an outreach campaign, they have an obligation to make sure the endorsements are real and true. That's an oversimplification, but it's close enough. If one of those bloggers posts about how the drink cured them of lung cancer, the marketer is on the hook. The blogger is on the hook as well, and probably by more than just the FTC.

My advice to bloggers is simple:
  1. Don't lie. If your really didn't think it was the best ever, don't say it was. Don't shill.
  2. Disclose received compensation. Getting it for free for the purpose of blogging or tweeting about it is compensation. Getting a free sandwich because you bought nine others is not.

My advice to marketer is even more simple:
  1. Don't try and deceive. "Results not typical" will be a thing of the past. Finally.

And yes, the fine for infractions can be up to $11,000 per occurrence. Will you get caught if you break the new laws? I sincerely hope so.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. this topic is all the buzz in the marketing world today but honestly what's the big deal? I'm not sure I like the FTC getting into anything we do but all they're saying is if you get paid to say something is awesome... you have to say you got paid to say this is awesome. If people are genuine, as they should be in blogging and podcasting, there shouldn't be an issue.

    The big bullshit comes when you read the part about celebrities.... they still don't have to disclose anything. um WTF? And how they define who is / is not a celebrity is pretty vague at best so... if you're rich you can saw whatever you want. If you're poor and make a couple bucks slingin a product you have to say something.

    Also as far as I know affiliate stuff doesn't count either... so you can still link to any affiliate link w/o declaring it is as such.

    And how are they monitoring this? Just people complaining about it I guess? meh - it's stupid

  2. Celebs aren't exempt. They just have different requirements. Mick Jagger can say how healthy Campbell's soup is without disclosing he gets half a mill to say that, sure. Because we -- as a society -- have come to expect that. But what Mick can't do is take a millon dollars to say that AudioTechnica microphones are the best on the planet *unless* he uses them on tour. You still can, since you're not the expert.

    There's more to it than that, but it quickly gets pretty hairy.

    Affiliate links don't count, unless you cross the line and make an endorsement. You can say "You should buy DirectTV" and put an affiliate link on your blog without issue. You can event tweet it. No problem. Where you cross the line is when you say "Man, I love my DirectTV way better than that shitty cable company I had" and include a link. You've just endorsed. And if you have a monetary interest in their clicking through and signing up. But it's easy enough to clarify that you're using an affiliate link. And no, you don't have to disclose how much you make. Just that you have an affiliate relationship is enough.

    And *they* -- as in the FTC -- don't monitor this. It's up to the marketer to monitor those who provide the testimonials and endorsements. But anyone can make a complaint, and there's a well-documented series of events that follow. And it's a lot easier to catch someone in the act now, as you can nab a screen shot a lot easier than trying to wait to record a commercial. :)

  3. [...] New FTC guidelines for bloggers are a bigger challenge for marketers ( [...]


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.