The FTC has released new guidelines related to endorsements and testimonials in advertising. What is new and alarming to some in these guidelines is the inclusion of blogging and bloggers. In summary, if a blogger gets something for free or is asked to write about something and does so, they must disclose this in their blog post or face monetary fines.
I say in summary as I have read the 81-page guidelines published by the FTC and I am still digesting it. I am not a lawyer, but fortunately the language in this government edict is relatively straightforward. I am working on a full post and opinion on this, which I hope to complete for next week.
In the meantime, people are obviously talking about this, some citing examples of situations which will require them to state disclaimers about their relationship with whom they are writing about. One such example is from billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who wrote in his blog about having his breakfast comped at IHOP. Where his writing style is tongue-in-cheek, according to the new FTC guidelines he would have to mention he received something for free when he talks about them.
The cost of breakfast at IHOP is under $10 - what about for something of more value, say a trip across the globe to Finland? That happened to me and about 3 dozen others when we attended Nokia OpenLab last September. As part of the trip I got a free round-trip coach ticket, 3 nights in a boutique hotel in Helsinki, meals, entertainment and a loaner Nokia E71 device. I would guestimate the value of all of that was over US$1,000. Does this mean every time I mention anything about Nokia – the company and or its products – I have to disclose this trip, as it could be considered influential to anything I say positive about them? Unfortunately there is nothing I found in the FTC guidelines to specifically address this.
For the bloggers out there, have you looked into these guidelines? What is your take on how it will impact how and what you write? Have you consulted an attorney about this? Will this change the face of blogging forever?
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I take the FCC ruling to be an effort to bring blogging into line with the rules that journalists adhere to, which is you declare any conflicts of interest in the story as it is timely.
Thus, when you wrote up the Nokia Open Lab, even a throw away comment that it was compliments or comped by Nokia qualifies. I don’t think that you have to mention it every time you write about Nokia, that would be excessive, as you don’t see the Chicago Tribune mentioning in every story that they write about X that X advertised in the tribune in 1952.
Comment by Ms. Jen
on 10/20/09 at 10:43 PM
Hi Jen - As the FTC has not stated *how* to disclaim, your approach on it would work.
Interesting point about traditional media, as yesterday this came up twice. I was talking with a career journalist about this yesterday, and he stated just that, that there are no similar requirements for him. Also, a local TV station featured a company in a news story that has been a major advertiser of late, and there was no disclaimer.
Creative folks will come up with creative ways that will clear the law, yet will probably still tick off the FTC. It will be interesting how this plays out.
Comment by Mike Maddaloni
on 10/21/09 at 12:32 PM
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