FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials
So the FTC came out today and issued some regulations on how product endorsements, reviews, and such need to be identified when putting them online:
The Federal Trade Commission today announced that it has approved final revisions to the guidance it gives to advertisers on how to keep their endorsement and testimonial ads in line with the FTC Act.
Where it comes into play for what I do is here:
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. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.
So in other words (if I'm reading this correctly), when I review a book I need to disclose when it was shipped to me from a publisher or an author. And if I do a product review, I need to disclose where the product came from, as well as whether I'm required to return the item after reviewing.
My knee-jerk reaction at first was "You've got to be kidding me! I'm just a blogger!" But that logic didn't stick around for long. People search the 'net looking for information and reviews on products before they buy. My blog is indexed by these search engines. Therefore, people use my reviews to make purchasing decisions. If I were doing the searching (which I do just like everyone else), I'd like to know if the person pushing the product is receiving significant reimbursement for doing so, or if there's a conflict somewhere that could come into play. Heck, just knowing if they got the item gratis is worth knowing, so you can make your own decisions on how to weigh their opinions.
On this blog, I've got a disclosure statement listed if you look hard enough. The main part of that which pertains to this discussion is here:
I currently am responsible for the monthly LotusUserGroup.org Developer Tips newsletter. I get paid for that. To date, I've never been told I can't write about something or give it my own personal view or slant. I also write occasional articles for other publications in the IBM/Lotus technical area. In most cases, I get paid for that too. Webcasts, paid. Lotusphere speaking, not paid (except for free conference registration). I write because I love the process, not because I have to pay the bills. Therefore, you get things I think are of interest to the audience, not things I'm told have to be covered or vendors who have to be pushed.
I read. A lot. I live a block away from a public library. That's where nearly all my "recreational" reading material comes from. The books I review on this site are posted here, Twitter, and Amazon. If you read a review on a tech book, you can nearly always assume I've received this book for free from the publisher, such as O'Reilly, Wiley, Apress, Addison-Wesley, and others. I'm on their reviewer lists and receive review copies of books that are of interest to me or my blogging audience. Other than the free book, I don't get paid for these reviews. I am under no pressure from the publisher to generate positive spin for a book just because they sent it to me. In fact, they encourage me to be honest. So, if I post a positive review, it's because I really did like the book.
I suppose I could count that as my statement of interest for my reviews, but that really doesn't make it easy when I post the review elsewhere outside of my blog, like on Amazon. How best to handle that situation in a way that doesn't add a whole mess of boilerplate text onto the end of every post? And even better, can I make it serve a dual purpose here also?
I was thinking about something like this at the end of each review:
Obtained From: (publisher, library, author, purchased)
Payment: (none, paid review, free book/product)
Product Ownership: (return when reviewed, keep)
That seems to be fairly concise, lets people know where I got the book/product from, and what financial investment the sender has in me reviewing the item.
I'm open to feedback, however... Does anyone else have any ideas of a standard review trailer that tells what a reader would like to know without adding paragraphs of useless text?