In a November 28, 2008 publication that may affect bloggers who review products, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it has updated its 1980 guidelines on endorsements, testimonials and advertising, providing “the basis for voluntary compliance with the law by advertisers and endorsers.” It will take effect December 1, 2009. The FTC guideline requires endorsers (including new media) to disclose their connection to a product seller if that connection would “materially affect the weight of credibility of the endorsement.”
I'm an Allergic Girl not a lawyer. But, as a citizen, blogger, advocate and businessperson, transparency is important to me and what I do. So, How does this relate to what I write/blog about? If I read the FTC document correctly, not a whole lot. I don’t get paid to write my Allergic Girl blog by a third party, never have. Additionally, I already disclose when I’ve received a book from a publicist or products directly from a company or when I have a relationship with a company. However, all of this online disclosure chat prompted me to make my blog policy very clear.
First and foremost, I am an allergic girl.
When I go to a restaurant, when I try a new food product, when I go to a hotel or read a book, I experience all of that as someone with food allergies, environmental allergies and allergic asthma who wants to stay safe and enjoy.
That is my first concern; that is my bottom line.
After that, if I like it, then I’ll dig a bit further: who makes this, how, where; who’s cooking it, may I thank them personally; or where can I get more of that delicious product? I'll ask because I liked it, it didn’t make me allergic and I might like more.
After that I think: “Hmmm, this might be cool for the Allergic Girl blog” and consider writing about it.
As pertains to samples, yes, I receive foodstuffs, product samples and reviewer copies of books for free.
Once I taste test or trial a product, if I don’t love it, I don’t blog about it regardless of whether it was free or cost dearly. If it’s not tasty (or seems unsafe) I talk directly with the company.
Alternatively, if I love something, I blog about it. I try to get as much information as I can (company allergen policies that I put in italics, for example) so my readers can make an informed decision about whether they want to explore that company for their own needs.
My thought is that *if* these new FTC guidelines help the blogging community become a more respected, valued journalism tool by underscoring the need for transparency where a certain murkiness (e.g. the relationship between advertisers and blogs that get paid for positive reviews/endorsements) existed then that can only help all of us.
You can read the PDF from the Federal Trade Commission; stories from the New York Times and the ensuing online conversations from Media Bistro about book reviews and reviewer copies of books i.e. free books for review; Edward Champion interview with FTC’s Richard Cleland; CNNMoney.com; and Publisher’s Weekly, who tried to further clarify what this all means for the independent blogger.