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FTC Disclosure New Rules for Bloggers and Hubbers
FTC Requires Disclosures on Hubs With Endorsements
The Federal Trade Commission has released new guidance regarding regarding publishing web content that endorses products or services. The new FTC rules govern when publishers must disclose that they were either paid to write a review, or when they received free products or services to write about. Basically, if you earn money writing a review, you have to tell people.
This guidance details how web publishers such as bloggers, webmasters, and Hubbers, who publish web content endorsing products or services must disclose that fact or face the possibility of sanctions including fines.
Earn Money Writing - Better Say So
Updating Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
Technically, the recently released guidelines are not the result of new laws passed by Congress, nor are they the result of new rules from the FTC. Rather, the new guidelines represent an update to exisiting rules regarding the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. Officially, this is an update to 16 C.F.R. Part 225: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. These guidelines were last updated in 1980.
While the blogosphere and the rest of the Internet is abuzz with how these new guildelines are aimed at bloggers who get paid to endorse products, especially in light of recent news events that suggest that many of the Internet's celebrity power players are getting paid to say some of the things they say. However, the agency began the process of updating these guidelines in January, 2007, and the recent news release is simply the culmination of the long commenting process that accompanies federal agency rule changes.
The new guidelines are not targetted specicifically at bloggers, or even Internet websites in general. In fact, the biggest change will come not online, but in regular television, radio, and print advertising.
Results Not Typical Not Allowed
Since 1980, the FTC has allowed for a consumer to convey their experience with a given product as the typical experience that everyone will have with the product, even if that was not true, so long as a disclaimer stating "results not typical" was included. Watch any late night informercial where a celebrity tells you that they lost 90 lbs. in 2 weeks using Super Fast Weight Loss Maximum Plus and you'll notice some fine print at the bottom of the screen saying, "Results Not Typical." This little safe-harbor provision is going away.
The news causing all the buzz is courtesy of new examples the Agency published which detail that a blogger or "other word-of-mouth marketers," like those on Twitter, or FaceBook, that have a "material connection" with the advertiser must disclose this fact. Material connections include payments and free products. The example goes on to say that while decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis (they always are) that a "blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered" to be endorsing that product, and thus subject to the disclosure rule.
If you write a website about parenting skills and endorse the diaper pail that you bought on your own, you don't have to say anything. However, if the Diaper Genie folks sent you a free Diaper Genie 2000 to test out, you have to disclose that.
But, that is only one of many updates to the guidelines.
Other FTC Required Disclosures
Companies that refer to research findings from a research orgainzation must disclose that they paid for that research. In other words, if a new study says, just what the company wanted it to say, when it hired the researchers to study something, consumers now have a right to know that it was some non-biased, third-party, with no interest in the outcome doing the research.
The really fun bit, comes in the celebrity endorsements section. Before, the guidelines did not make it clear that the celebrity endorser could be liable for making false claims and not just the advertiser. All of those stars of yesteryear hawking diet pills, excercise machines, and get rich quick schemes will have to be a little more careful now.
Celebrities will also have to disclose their material relationships with advertisers when endorsing their products outside of advertisements like on talk shows or radio programs.
In the end, most of the new guidelines are good news for consumers. For bloggers and website owners, there is no need to panic. A simple one-liner stating that you recieved a demo product, or were paid, is all it takes to stay in compliance. Even better, create blanket disclaimer and write on like you always have before.