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The Recent FTC Guidelines Made Simple: Do Ask, Don’t Tell

More than a month after the Federal Trade Commission guidelines on endorsements and testimonials in advertising were updated, we’re still getting questions. Hopefully this helps …

One of the main issues addressed in the guidelines is disclosure of material connections between endorsers (in the context of this discussion, we’re talking about bloggers) and advertisers (i.e., brands conducting outreach via bloggers).

Until the recent update, the ethical lines for how much disclosure is necessary were kind of blurred. Paying someone to write a review is pretty much a universal “no, no,” while providing product for review often sparked debate. Is providing a blogger with a valuable item like a car, computer or flat screen TV something that should be disclosed? Most people would say yes, but what about a can of Chicken of the Sea (client) tuna or a can of WD-40 (client)? The FTC guidelines are clear – any “material” connection where these connections are not reasonably expected by the audience should be brought out into the open.  What’s a brand to do?

Rather than split hairs about “material” connections or what constitutes an “endorsement,”  the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) suggest a policy of full disclosure (in fact, the organization was way ahead of the curve with its ethics code).

At the recent San Diego Social Media Symposium, WOMMA Chief Evangelist John Moore simplified things – do ask and don’t tell. Do ask for disclosure, and don’t tell bloggers what to write or influence the opinion of the blogger.

It’s also important to note that with the recent updates, the liability for non disclosure falls not only on the part of the blogger, but also on the part of the marketer. If you are considering doing a social media or blogger outreach campaign, it is important that you know the ins and outs of these guidelines.  We recommend you check out WOMMA to learn more or call us with any questions.  Oh, and while the FTC might not have the resources to monitor each and every little blog, rest assured that your competition and consumer watchdog groups are monitoring and will likely have no problem being a whistle blower if the guidelines are not followed.

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