Sunday, August 23, 2015

Of blogger endorsement

Fashion Cream of the Crop (Source)

Few days ago I posted a rant concerning the changes I have observed over the years in the meaning and usage of fashion blogs. I was wondering if major fashion bloggers were still true to themselves posting about things they like or didn't like or they rapidly became advertisement boards for companies. Interestingly enough, I have stumbled on a new blog called Lawyer in Lanvin  which explores the intertwinement of fashion and law. She recently post an entry on endorsement. 

Apparently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) , whose main role is to protect American consumers, have made recommendations concerning endorsement strongly advising  bloggers to disclose when a blog post, a tweet, an Instagram post or Facebook post is endorsed by a  brand. These recommendations validate the increasing power of bloggers on consumers. There are no judiciary action in place for those who do not disclose.  But if any is put in place, this might become a very slippery slope and raise many questions...

Although, some bloggers seems to comply to these regulations, I really don't think  that most big bloggers follow them... Also the blogosphere is an international environment with several international stars to follow. Those FTC recommendations only apply to American to my best knowledge  and I am not aware of other countries guidelines on the subject. The average American fashionista can also be influenced by British, Swedish or French bloggers. Would those recommendations apply to them if their blogs is visited by Americans?  Besides celebrities have been known to tacitly endorse brands for a very long time from high end gala dresses to the new trendy diet. Would these recommendations apply to them also eventually? I also wonder if it is in the interest of the blogger to fully disclose all his/her endorsements. I am certain that a growing number of them mostly post endorsements posts now. How would that affect their "genuine" unique style as perceived by their followers? Isn't this authenticity the main advantage for companies to pay these bloggers, so that their posted looks seem genuine; coming from their own imagination?

Although I praise the role of organizations like FTC, I also believe hope that most consumers are not stupid and can navigate through their favourite blogs identifying what they like and dislike, but maybe I am being too optimistic.

As Beeta concluded in her post, we have to wait and see what happens with that.

The FTC has a FAQ page concerning endorsement in general. Here are some interesting questions and answers that apply to fashion blogs :

Isn’t it common knowledge that some bloggers are paid to tout products or that if you click a link on my site to buy a product, I’ll get a commission for that sale?
First, many bloggers who mention products don’t receive anything for their reviews and don’t get a commission if readers click on a link to buy a product. Second, the financial arrangements between some bloggers and advertisers may be apparent to industry insiders, but not to everyone else who reads a blog. Under the law, an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads “a significant minority” of consumers. So even if some readers are aware of these deals, many readers aren’t. That’s why disclosure is important.
Has the FTC been getting complaints about deceptive blogs?
No. As it happens, many bloggers and advertisers already are disclosing their ties to each other. Industry associations and self-regulatory groups advocate disclosure, too.
I’ve read that bloggers who don’t comply with the Guides can be fined $11,000? Is that true?
No. The press reports that said that were wrong. There is no fine for not complying with an FTC guide.
Are you monitoring bloggers?
We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to. If concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.
Do the Guides hold online reviewers to a higher standard than reviewers for paper-and-ink publications?
No. The Guides apply across the board. The issue is – and always has been – whether the audience understands the reviewer’s relationship to the company whose products are being reviewed. If the audience gets the relationship, a disclosure isn’t needed. For a review in a newspaper, on TV, or on a website with similar content, it’s usually clear to the audience that the reviewer didn’t buy the product being reviewed. It’s the reviewer’s job to write his or her opinion and no one thinks they bought the product – for example, a book or movie ticket – themselves. But on a personal blog, a social networking page, or in similar media, the reader may not expect the reviewer to have a relationship with the company whose products are mentioned. Disclosure of that relationship helps readers decide how much weight to give the review.
I’ve heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?
If you mention a product you paid for yourself, the Guides aren’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to all its customers. The Guides cover only endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the Guides if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays a blogger or gives a blogger something of value to mention a product, including a commission on the sale of a product. Bloggers receiving free products or other perks with the understanding that they’ll promote the advertiser’s products in their blogs would be covered, as would bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them or working for network advertising agencies.
What if all I get from the company is a $1-off coupon, or if the product is only worth a few dollars? Do I still have to disclose?
Here’s another way to think of it: While getting one item that’s not very valuable for free may not affect the credibility of what you say, sometimes continually getting free stuff from an advertiser or multiple advertisers is enough to suggest an expectation of future benefits from positive reviews. If you have a relationship with a marketer who’s sending you freebies in the hope you’ll write a positive review, it’s best if your readers know you got the product for free.
What if I upload a video that shows me using different products? Do I have to disclose whether I bought them myself or got them from an advertiser?
The guidance for videos is the same as for websites or blogs.
What if I return the product after I review it? Should I still make a disclosure?
That may depend on the product and how long you are allowed to use it. For example, if you get free use of a car for a month, a disclosure is recommended even if you return it. But even for less valuable products, it’s best to be open and transparent with your readers.
Several months ago a manufacturer sent me a free product and asked me to write about it on my blog. I tried the product, liked it, and wrote a favorable review. When I posted the review, I disclosed that I got the product for free from the manufacturer. I still use the product. Do I have to disclose that I got the product for free every time I mention it in my blog?
It probably depends on how much you say about it. A casual remark like “I use X brand food processor” may not raise an issue under the Guides, but each new positive endorsement made without a disclosure could be deceptive.
A famous athlete has thousands of followers on Twitter and is well-known as a spokesperson for a particular product. Does he have to disclose that he’s being paid every time he tweets about the product?
It depends on whether his readers understand he’s being paid to endorse that product. If they know he’s a paid endorser, no disclosure is needed. But if a significant number of his readers don’t know that, a disclosure would be needed. Determining whether followers are aware of a relationship could be tricky in many cases, so a disclosure is recommended.
I’m starting a new Internet business.  I don’t have any money for advertising, so I need publicity.  Can I tell people that if they say good things about my business on Twitter and Facebook, I’ll give them a discount on items they buy through my website?
It’s not a good idea. Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions or experiences of the endorser, and your plan could cause people to write positive reviews even if they’ve never done business with you. However, it’s okay to invite people to post reviews of your business after they’ve actually used your products or services. If you’re offering them something of real value in return for these reviews, though, it’s wise to tell them in advance that they should disclose what they received from you. That way, other consumers can decide how much stock to put in those reviews.
Is there special language I have to use to make the disclosure?
No. The point is to give readers the information. Your disclosure could be as simple as “Company X gave me this product to try . . ..”
Do I have to hire a lawyer to help me write a disclosure?
No. What matters is effective communication, not legalese. A disclosure like “Company X sent me [name of product] to try, and I think it’s great” gives your readers the information they need. Or, at the start of a short video, you might say, “Some of the products I’m going to use in this video were sent to me by their manufacturers.” That gives the necessary heads-up to your viewers.
I’m an affiliate marketer with links to an online retailer on my website. When people click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn a commission. What do I have to disclose? Where should the disclosure be?
Let’s assume that you’re endorsing a product or service on your site and you have links to a company that pays you commissions on sales. If you disclose the relationship clearly and conspicuously on your site, readers can decide how much weight to give your endorsement. In some instances, where the link is embedded in the product review, a single disclosure may be adequate. When the product review has a clear and conspicuous disclosure of your relationship – and the reader can see both the product review and the link at the same time – readers have the information they need. If the product review and the link are separated, the reader may lose the connection.
As for where to place a disclosure, the guiding principle is that it has to be clear and conspicuous. Putting disclosures in obscure places – for example, buried on an ABOUT US or GENERAL INFO page, behind a poorly labeled hyperlink or in a terms of service agreement – isn’t good enough. The average person who visits your site must be able to notice your disclosure, read it and understand it.
What are the essential things I need to know about using endorsements in advertising?
The most important principle is that an endorsement has to represent the accurate experience and opinion of the endorser:
  • You can’t talk about your experience with a product if you haven’t tried it.
  • If you were paid to try a product and you thought it was terrible, you can’t say it’s terrific.
  • You can’t make claims about a product that would require proof you don’t have. For example, you can’t say a product will cure a particular disease if there isn’t scientific evidence to prove that’s true.

All this is very interesting! Although they are no judicial consequences to not disclose endorsement, it can have a great impact on your relationship with your followers. Even though most many of the current it-girl blogs have lost their appeal to me, they start little and their fanbase has been built on their authenticity and accessibility.  And a lack of the former could take that fame from them. So disclose when you should; you will be happy the day problems knock at your door.

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