My Thoughts on the Recent FTC Guidelines

October 8, 2009

As I’m sure many of you have already heard, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) published its final guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials on October 5, 2009, and since the changes affect bloggers I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.

The basic gist of the release (at least the portion that I find to be relevant to bloggers) is that ‘material connections’ between advertisers and ‘endorsers’ must be disclosed, meaning that as a general rule, bloggers must disclose when they’ve received a product they’re reviewing for free.

I take no issue with the spirit behind the new policy, as free product or not, my reviews are always 100% honest. I have no qualms giving a free product a negative review, and should I happen to love the product, I also have no problem posting a rave. Furthermore, I don’t do paid reviews or sponsored posts (I’ve turned them down on various occasions) as, at least for me, it goes against the grain to be paid for my opinion.

What I do take issue with, however, is the fact that the guidelines are rather vague and inconsistent. For example, what exactly constitutes a ‘material connection’? Is it a company that advertises on my site (for the record, I’m part of an ad network that deals with all that so I don’t really know what ads run on my site)? A brand whose PR rep has contacted me? A company that has sent me one product at some point in the past to review? For the FTC, pretty much anything and everything seems to be material when it comes to bloggers.

In addition, the FTC only objects to the free products and what they call “endorsements” when you give a product a positive review. A close reading of their newly promulgated guidelines offers no indication that a blogger need reveal these ‘material connections’ when giving a product a negative review.

But what I find most offensive about the FTC guidelines? The shadow of unprofessionalism and perhaps even untrustworthiness that they cast upon bloggers as a whole. It should be noted that reviews published via more ‘traditional’ media outlets (newspapers, magazines, television, internet news websites) are not considered to be sponsored advertising and therefore are not endorsements subject to these FTC guidelines, because in these types of media an employee is assigned to review a product pursuant to his/her official duties. What makes the reviews that I write so different from a review any beauty editor writes for a magazine, other than the fact that I’m actually entitled to actually voice my completely honest opinion as I have no boss looking over my shoulder ensuring that I’m not offending precious advertisers? What is it that makes my positive reviews so inherently suspect to the FTC that they feel the need to have the specter of an $11,000 fine looming over my head when magazines with their massive beauty closets full of freebies (and clients who pay hefty fees for advertisements) are left pretty much free and clear?

All ranting aside, I really am all for full disclosure of these things, and while I’m not entirely thrilled with how the FTC has gone about attaining this end, I do plan to put up a ‘disclosures’ page when the blog has been moved to WordPress (yes change is coming!) and to mention where each and every product I review has come from (almost always from funds out of my own cute LV wallet). I know that you all know that ABS is premised on my ability to share my honest opinions on products I’ve tried, whether they be good or bad, and nothing will ever change that!

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