To allay such fears, Cleland noted that the FTC’s enforcement priorities make it more likely an advertiser would be targeted for disclosure or testimonial violations than a blogger. The exception would be a blogger who runs a “substantial” operation that violates FTC rules and already has received a warning, he said.
Existing FTC rules already banned deceptive and unfair business practices. The final guidelines aim to clarify the law for the vast world of blogging. Not since 1980 had the commission revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials.
Jack Gillis, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America, thinks the FTC doesn’t go far enough to protect consumers from unethical bloggers.
“Consumers are increasingly dependent on the internet for purchase information,” he said. “There’s tremendous opportunity to steer consumers to the wrong direction.”
The consumer advocacy group said lack of disclosure is a huge problem in blogs. To crack down mainly on companies that give out freebies or pay bloggers won’t always solve the problem, it said. By going after bloggers as well, “you put far more pressure on them to behave properly,” Gillis said.
Cleland said a blogger who receives a freebie without the advertiser knowing would not violate FTC guidelines. For example, someone who gets a free bag of dog food as part of a promotion from a pet shop wouldn’t violate FTC guidelines if he writes about the product on his blog.
Blogger Linsey Krolik said she’s always disclosed any freebies she’s received on products she writes about, but has stepped up her efforts since last fall. She said she adds a notice at the end of a post, “very clear in italics or bold or something–this is the deal. It’s not kind of buried.”
As for testimonials, the new guidelines amount to changing the rules in the middle of the game, said Daniel Fabricant, interim executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association, a trade group for nutritional supplements and natural products manufacturers and retailers.
He said the new rules probably won’t change ads for his members, but it will leave them wondering what the FTC considers “typical” results. He said the FTC needs to define what those are.
“I don’t think they’ve done that,” he said. “The results you see in clinics are going to be in some degree different from what you see in the consumer.”
Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Federation of America