Advertisers and Evangelists: DISCLOSE!
In December, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released new guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising (now including blogging and microblogging). These guidelines are intended to ensure that consumers are made aware if third-party endorsements are influenced by advertisers and marketers. Translation: blogging and micro-blogging evangelists (including celebrity spokespeople) must reveal that they have received free products or incentives of any kind that may have influenced a positive endorsement of a brand or product.
According to the guidelines, endorsements includes:
…any advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the sponsoring advertiser. The party whose opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience the message appears to reflect will be called the endorser and may be an individual, group, or institution.
The revision is an amendment to include social-media and digital word-of-mouth endorsements to the existing guidelines on advertising and testimonials.
The revised guides reflect three basic truth-in-advertising principles:
- Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading;
- If the advertiser doesn’t have proof that the endorser’s experience represents what consumers will achieve by using the product, the ad must clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected results in the depicted circumstances; and
- If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.
Bloggers and the advertisers who seek their endorsements can protect themselves by clearly stating within a post or on a home page that they received free product, incentives, gifts, or other forms of payment to use a product mentioned in an endorsement. There is no need for detailed or expensive legal jargon; a simple, clear statement will suffice. The other simple guidelines for staying in compliance is to ensure that bloggers only endorse something that they’ve actually experienced and be honest about the experience.
Should these guidelines be violated, the FTC will address the infraction with the marketer, not the online evangelist. In fact, the government agency has already begun enforcing the new guidelines. Ann Taylor, the apparel company, has been investigated for holding an event and providing free product to bloggers; some of whom raved about the products and brand without mentioning that they received them for free. The FTC has stated that it will not be monitoring blogs, but will investigate reports of guideline violations.
To help advertisers and marketers navigate the additional guidelines, the FTC has posted a thorough FAQ document offering clarification. The document also includes links to documentation on how to file complaints, and review those that have been filed by the FTC. Advertisers and marketers are encouraged to send questions to email@example.com.
We believe the rules are very clear. Advertise, market, act ethically and with complete transparency and you’ll never go wrong!
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