FTC’s New Endorsement Rules: Trusting Blog Reviews

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Beginning on December 1, US bloggers and publishers who review products/ services/ websites must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, but not limited at, money, freebies, coupons, etc. The announcement was made on Monday by the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Bloggers and publishers who don’t comply with the new Guides may face penalties of up to US $11000.

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. Endorsements can appear on blogs in any form: reviews, give-aways, links, images, video, etc:

An endorsement means 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 rules apply for all instances when a blogger/ publisher receives a form of compensation to review a product. Bloggers/ publishers who review product they purchased with their own money are not affected by these rules:

A consumer who purchases a product with his or her own money and praises it on a personal blog or on an electronic message board will not be deemed to be providing an endorsement.

Any situation in which a blogger/publisher reviews a product/service and receives compensation directly from an advertiser or from a third party (example the media agency representing the advertiser) falls under the guides:

In contrast, postings by a blogger who is paid to speak about an advertiser’s product will be covered by the Guides, regardless of whether the blogger is paid directly by the marketer itself or by a third party on behalf of the marketer.

Bloggers who receive free product to review them are not off the hook:

For example, a blogger could receive merchandise from a marketer with a request to review it, but with no compensation paid other than the value of the product itself. In this situation, whether or not any positive statement the blogger posts would be deemed an “endorsement” within the meaning of the Guides…

Sponsored postings on message boards and microblogs should also be disclosed:

Similarly, consumers who join word of mouth marketing programs that periodically provide them products to review publicly (as opposed to simply giving feedback to the advertiser) will also likely be viewed as giving sponsored messages.

The Commission believes that these rules are beneficial for the credibility of the bloggers/ publishers who comply. The consumers who trust them as reliable sources of information expect disclosures and full transparency; ensuring that advertising is truthful and non-misleading. To learn more details about the new FTC guides, read the full text here.