Disclose. Or Else.

Word-of-mouth is one of the most important promotional tools that any product can have.

Generate a good buzz, and people will buy.  But if people don’t like what you’re selling, it’s very likely they’ll tell others to stay away.

Nowadays, people don’t just talk to their friends about things they may be looking to buy.  They also go online.  I’ve let reviews on Amazon or random blogs influence my buying decisions, and I’m sure that’ll continue in the future.

A few years ago, I actually got an offer to review a product that I mentioned on the Kingdom.  The PR rep for the item offered to send me a free sample to do a complete review.  While I was flattered, I turned him down (more out of the fact that I don’t cook turkey than any other reason).  I’m sure others who run more reputable and/or popular blogs get similar offers every day and are often rolling in free products.

In many cases, it’s assumed that someone reviewing a product for a media outlet has received a free sample.  In some other cases, reviewers mention they’ve received freebies from the manufacturer.

But now, bloggers are being told that they have to disclose any freebies or else.

Monday, the Federal Trade Commission announced new rules about disclosing items mentioned in blog reviews:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

True, it’s a good practice to mention any links between a reviewer and a product, but not every case is that simple.  Or, as Wired puts it more simply:

If a well-known dog blogger reviews dog food they bought, no disclosure is necessary. If they review free dog food acquired through a coupon spit out by the supermarket’s computer, no disclosure is necessary. But if the dog food company sends the blogger a free sample based on their review, both the company and the blogger are on the hook if any subsequent review doesn’t include that info.

It’s an interesting idea, but as Wired mentions, it raises a lot of questions.

Here’s mine:  how’s the FTC going to enforce this?  I’m guessing this is aimed at U.S.-only blogs.  Okay, suppose I get a free copy of the next Weezer album (BTW-Geffen/Universal Music- I am planning on reviewing Raditude and it would be real helpful if you could send me an advance copy, okay?) and I give it a glowing review, but don’t disclose that they’ve given me a copy…What are they going to do? Fine my ISP? Reply to a post with a stern comment telling me to knock it off?  Send over a couple of government agents to unplug my connection?

Disclosing freebies is probably something that bloggers should do.  But I’m sure the FTC has better things to do than to make sure bloggers are doing so.

And Geffen, I’m serious about that review.

Published by