Thursday, 15 October 2009

New Federal rules for product reviews/endorsements by bloggers

Beginning Dec. 1, bloggers, Twitterers and many others who write online product reviews must disclose the receipt of free merchandise or payment for the items they write about.
New York Times - New F.T.C. Rules Have Bloggers and Twitterers Mulling
Not a problem for me. I've already got a disclaimer at the bottom of this blog which clearly states................
Disclaimer

The basic principle which underpins this blog is that all all the reviews which appear here should be independent.


What does this mean?
  • I am sent review copies of books by publishers or authors and samples of art materials by suppliers of art materials but I have no financial relationship with those suppliers or any art shop or art bookshop.
  • I am an Amazon affiliate (which helps me to finance the purchase of any new books); however I have no formal affiliation with any other manufacturer or publisher and I buy lots of art books in various art shops)
  • I will always declare if I have any sort of affiliate interest in relation to a product or service under review and I'll also declare whether I was sent a product as a sample.
  • I expect all reviews by other artists which appear on this blog to adhere to the basic premise that any and all affiliations are declared.
I don't think I need to take any action.

How about you?

There are clear issues about how to distinguish between ordinary people who write about products they use in an 'everyday' way and those who provide endorsements with a view to earning money from their blogs.

It's been an issue that has always seemed to me to be one which is best addressed by ALWAYS being open and upfront about any products/books/items I'm sent to review. I don't give positive reviews simply because I'm sent something but I really wouldn't want people to think that a positive review is the result of getting a freebie!!!

Overall, I say what I think - but try to be fair. In relation to negative experiences I notify a manufacturers if a sample product has failed to perform - as I've done just recently. I then seek a replacement to ensure that my review is not distorted by what might be a 'one-off' malfunction. It happens.

Further Information

The Guide was last updated in 1980 so this is a major and important change. It's specifically aimed at ensuring transparency in dealings as much advertising now moves away from traditional channels and towards social networking sites.

Here are some links providing more information.
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.
Federal Trade Commission - News:
FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials
For purposes of this part, 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 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.
(c) The Commission intends to treat endorsements and testimonials identically in the context of its enforcement of the Federal Trade Commission Act and for purposes of this part. The term endorsements is therefore generally used hereinafter to cover both terms and situations.
(d) For purposes of this part, the term product includes any product, service, company or industry.
(e) For purposes of this part, an expert is an individual, group, or institution possessing, as a result of experience, study, or training, knowledge of a particular subject, which knowledge is superior to what ordinary individuals generally acquire.

4 comments:

Parka said...

It's good to state up front whether any product reviewed is sponsored or the relationships with the manufacturer.

But with the new law, it's like saying bloggers of the past who review stuff are not as truthful. That doesn't make sense to me. Sure there's an incentive to say nice things but that motivation isn't proven.

I do occasionally get free books from publishers to review. But they don't really affect my review in anyway. In fact, I once gave a 1-star rating to someone who mailed me his book. Another I don't even want to put stars because it will just be as bad. I've also recently gave another book a 1-star even though I might earn a small commission by giving it 5-stars to mislead people.

I can't see how this law is going to be enforce seeing there are so many people who write on the Internet. As they say, it will "be on a case by case basis". But I don't see how they can prove that bloggers have incentive to write glowing reviews.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Good points - and good for you for giving books low scores despite the fact they've been sent as samples.

To be fair to the FTC, I think any effort to try and set some standards was always going to run into some sort of trouble given there hasn't been anything at all for so long. It also seems to me that the people who were taking advantage of the system and endorsing without integrity tended to operate in what I would call the 'fashion/shopping' and music segments - and was it ever thus?

My frequent strategy with books I'm sent to review which I don't like is that I just don't give them a review and air time. I'd rather spend limited time giving a good book a decent review than a bad book any time at all.

However I have started giving reviews to popular books which are over-rated and I do spell out just why I think they are weak.

That said I've still got a load of books to review......... :)

Parka said...

I give negative reviews to help my readers avoid the books, or at least try to flip through before buying.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Good point. However getting people to flip through a book before they buy can be a bit difficult if they are buying online! ;)

I'm certainly being more explicit than I used to be about books which are less than helpful.

For example, publishers which merely recycle content and republish with a new title are particularly likely to get adverse comments. I've seen far too many comments by people who've bought a book thinking it's entirely new only to find that a lot of the content has been recycled from existing books.

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