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October 21, 2009

Much Ado About The Big FTC Blogging Disclosure

As it turns out, the blogger flap generated by the FTC two weeks ago with their rules regarding non-disclosure and fines of $11,000, is pretty much “nothing”. Mary Engle, an FTC attorney and assistant director of Advertising Practices, said they, the FTC, never intended to police all blogs and bloggers. (No kidding!) “We couldn’t do it if we wanted to and we don’t want to.

So, what was this great FTC tsunami announcement all about then, if it wasn’t about bloggers disclosing certain freebees or payments as an incentive to blog favorably about the product or service? According to Engle, this announcement was meant only to fill out the guidelines first issued in 1980, having to do with endorsement and testimonials. These new guidelines are nothing more than beefed-up older guidelines with no force of law. They are separate and apart from the FTC’s Rules and Regulations that, if violated, can carry some rather severe civil penalties. The newly rounded out guidelines are aimed, Engle said, at those advertisers and marketers who provide free goods and services in a large way to certain segments of the population who in exchange promise endorsements on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

For example, a Proctor & Gamble campaign recently provided 400,000 moms with free products, like Tide and Febreeze, for their favorable testimonials about these products on their social network accounts or on blogs. The general assumption by the reader would be that these moms tried the products and loved them, sending something of a false advertising message. Engle noted that this kind of relationship needs to be disclosed to further fair advertising practices. Engle mentioned that they could have done a better job in defining the guidelines, to outline more specifically at whom the FTC was aiming. (No kidding again!)

To further complicate the great misunderstanding over the revised guidelines was the fact that shortly after the FTC announcement, Richard Cleland, chief of the Consumer Protection Agency, intimated that if a blogger received an item for review on a blog, that it would be considered to have compensatory value unless returned after the review was written. That remark fueled a firestorm!

But in the end, it turned out to be just a quick little grassfire. Bloggers who mention a product they may have received as a freebee or may have bought, have no need to go scouring back over their records. That free bottle of wine you received from a vintner back in January, drank and barely remember tasting, won’t cost you $11,000.

Relax. Just a minor bureaucratic flap.