Ad Groups Ask FTC To Reconsider Proposed Testimonial Guidelines

Mar 17, 2009

Wendy Davis, Mar 17, 2009 08:31 AM

A broad array of ad organizations are asking the Federal Trade Commission to hold off on new regulations that would affect marketing on blogs, online message boards and other forms of new media.The proposed regulations would “result in uncertainty and increased costs for marketers,” a coalition of nine ad and business organizations warned in a joint letter filed earlier this month. Signatories were the American Association of Advertising agencies, American Advertising Federation, Council for Responsible Nutrition, Direct Marketing Association, Direct Selling Association, Electronic Retailing Association, Interactive Advertising Bureau, Promotion Marketing Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The FTC is currently considering a proposal to update its guidelines on testimonials. One proposed change would require bloggers, online commenters and others to disclose any connections they have to marketers. For example, bloggers who receive free review copies would have to disclose that they didn’t pay for the product.

The ad organizations object, arguing that there’s no reason to impose such a standard online when reviewers in traditional outlets don’t disclose the receipt of free copies. “If the blogger who has become a video game expert must disclose that he received the video game system for free, then is every critic required to disclose that a reviewed item was provided for free?” the letter asks. “Many consumers expect that critics have received a reviewed item for free, or they generally assume that an independent, expert reviewer is providing his or her honest opinions regardless of whether the reviewer purchased the item.”

Some on Madison Avenue are also concerned that they might be held liable for bloggers’ failure to disclose any ties to marketers. In the joint letter to the FTC, the ad organizations say they’re not in any position to police bloggers or other Web users. “It is virtually impossible for marketers to make certain that employees and other individuals compensated by the marketer disclose their connections to the marketer when making favorable statements,” the letter says.

The IAB also opposed the proposals for similar reasons in a separate letter to the FTC. “Requiring marketers to be responsible for the actions of third parties over whom they exercise uncertain control could create unintended consequences for new media,” wrote Mike Zaneis, vice president for public policy.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association submitted its own comments to the FTC asking for clarification about whether marketers could be held liable for a blogger’s failure to disclose connections to advertisers.

The FTC originally proposed new guidelines two years ago. Last November, the agency published additional information illustrating how the proposals would affect online media.

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At the moment I feel as though I’m having someone look over my shoulder (which makes this hard to type).  On the highway of bloggers we now have a FTC Cop on our tails.

No Freebies, and if so get those asterisks ready.  I’m waiting for Twitter to jump on this bandwagon, new status:  “Jittery on great coffee*”

* Note this coffee was provided by a coworker.

Instead of being honest in my opinions, having the extra change in my pocket completely changes my opinion on things.  Really??  How so?  I find it quite the opposite, blogging gives us the freedom of raving and ranting to a broader audience.  Unless we are being supplied by Indian Givers, those great gold pumps* I got for Christmas are amazing but only if I’m sitting down.  Yes I said it, no favoritism just because they were free.

How does the FTC plan on keeping track of reviews?  Isn’t that a great advantage of being an American Blogger (Freedom of Online Speech).  Maybe our tagging will have to include company sites?  Might this be easier FTC?

*Note these were provided by my mom.

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