You might want to think twice before blogging a product or service that you were either given for free or paid for writing about. Even if you good intentions — which most bloggers do — you could be breaking the law. So, what’s the scoop on product endorsements in blogs?
Just five or so years ago, this wasn’t even a topic for discussion. Bloggers wrote about products without disclosing any relationship they had with the manufacturer. Since then, however, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revised its guidelines to prohibit this practice. Bloggers are still free to write about products and services — even if they were given the product or service for free — but they must now include a disclosure so there’s greater transparency with their readers. Sound confusing?
The FTC certainly has good intentions with its rule regarding product endorsements in blogs. When you read a positive review online about a particular product, you expect it to be honest and unbiased. Assuming the blogger was either paid to write the review or given the product for free, he or she will likely have a biased opinion, at which point the review becomes misleading. In an effort to create greater transparency on the web, the FTC required bloggers to disclose when such relationships are made with product manufacturers or service providers.
As the FTC explains, it’s only concerned about endorsements made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. This means you only have to include a disclosure when you are either given a product, or if you are paid to write about it.
“The FTC is only concerned about endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the FTC Act if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays you or gives you something of value to mention a product. If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered. Bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them also are covered,” wrote the FTC on its website.
So, how are you supposed to disclosure a relationship with a product manufacturer or service provider on your blog? In its questions and answers section, the FTC didn’t reveal any “exact wording” required by bloggers. Instead, the Commission simply states that the point of the disclosure is to give readers information about the relationship the blogger has with the respective product manufacturer or service provider. This can be something as simple as “Company ABC gave me this product to try for free,” or “Disclosure: I was paid by Company ABC to write this review.
Will the FTC come after you for failing to disclose relationships with product manufacturers and/or service providers? Unless you’re major brand, probably not. However, it’s usually best to err on the side of caution to prevent potential headaches from occurring.
What do you think about the FTC’s guidelines regarding sponsored posts?