BLOGGERS BEWARE – THE FTC IS MONITORING YOU

Recently, I blogged about the FTC’s guide to endorsements and testimonials  (June 3, 2013, http://www.netlaws.us/blog/page/2/).  What may not have been clear is that these guidelines apply to all commercial endorsements including radio, television, magazine, newspaper or web sites; including blogs, forums and social networking sites.

The guidelines concerning the disclosure of material connections are certainly in response to the millions of blogs that have cropped up across the Internet.  Bloggers are expressing their opinions about anything and everything and the FTC is putting them on notice that they are being watched for deceptive practices.  As you will see, the guidelines require bloggers to inform the reader of any connections between the blogger and the product including if the blogger was given a free sample or money to try the product and report on its use.

A blog is merely a type of website that an author uses to express his opinions.  The author will usually post regular updates to express new opinions.  The guidelines are not specific to blogs and would apply to any website, or magazine article or television commercial for that matter.

Turning our attention to the FTC guidelines on testimonials and endorsements specifically, let’s start by defining testimonials and endorsements.  The FTC guidelines state that they intend to treat endorsements and testimonials identically, and the rules treat any testimonial as an endorsement.  I define an endorsement as a testimonial by a celebrity.

In the Guidelines, the FTC states that an endorsement means any advertising message 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. Endorsements can still be used in Internet marketing, but only in accordance with the guidelines.

At the end of this lesson I have attached a link to the FTC’s Revised Endorsement and Testimonial Guides.  I summarize the guidelines below in a short and simple method, however, it would be worth your while to read and understand the full document. Further, the FTC Guide contains examples for each rule. The examples in this guide are excellent, and I strongly recommend you read the examples as they will give you a very good understanding of the rules. 

The guidelines require:

  • Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the Endorser.
  • An endorsement may not convey any representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser.
  •  The endorser must have been a bona fide user of the product at the time the endorsement was given and must continue to use the product during the time the advertisement runs.
  • Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers.
  • Advertisers must possess and rely upon adequate substantiation, including, competent and reliable scientific evidence, to support claims made through endorsements in the same manner the advertiser would be required to do if it had made the representation directly.
  • If the advertiser does not have substantiation that the endorser’s experience is representative of what consumers will generally achieve, the advertisement should clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected performance and the advertiser must possess and rely on adequate substantiation for that representation.
  • Endorsers represented as experts must truly be an expert with an expert’s qualifications.
  • Expert endorsers must exercise their expertise in evaluating the product they are endorsing.
  • Connections or remuneration between the seller of the advertised product and the endorser must be fully disclosed.

Finally, as I promised: Please click here to go to the http://ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf