fool disclosure

After Cyber Monday, FTC Gives Bloggers "Disclosure Tuesday"

Posted by Peter Feld on December 1, 2009 06:24 PM

Cyber Monday is being pronounced a success, with shopping up 13.7% and Amazon reportedly edging Wal-Mart.

The folks at the US Federal Trade Commission had their heads screwed on straight for once, by deciding to wait until the day after Cyber Monday to launch new rules requiring bloggers and celebrities to disclose when they promote a product online for pay, or in exchange for free stuff. (I know: as if anyone there even made the connection.) Well, we kind of joked about who might get caught up in these rules -- and questioned whether celebrities who tweet for pay will test the trust of their audience -- but, we suddenly notice (just in time!), we are included.

The FTC has been under fire from bloggers for issuing strict rules without sufficient guidelines or consumer education, considering that fines can range up to $11,000. It has promised to target advertisers, not bloggers, or maybe just big fish, or maybe not heavily fine the little fish -- which has raised concerns of selective prosecution. In a "heated but civil" interview between blogger Edward Champion and the FTC's Richard Cleland, it's noted that partner marketing links such as Amazon Associates are included in the disclosure requirements.

Well, as brandchannel readers have likely noticed, we use Amazon Associates. This is a well-known program that pays participants for referring business to Amazon, via links which are easily seen (because the URL string includes "brandchannelcom") and which will bring a fairly small amount of revenue to the site if you follow that link and make a purchase. We've included them for many years when we link to media (books that are reviewed, or films in our brandcameo section), and have been using them on this blog when referring to certain products Amazon sells. (Those references being there because they belong in the story, not so as to send business to Amazon.)

These links are not recommendations: We certainly weren't suggesting you go out and buy a subscription to Maxim earlier today, nor (in earlier posts) the Starbucks T-Disc one-cup system, nor a Blue's Clues video. Our book reviews link to Amazon whether they are positive or negative. The links are only there for reasons of reader service (you might be interested in the product, and certainly don't have to click or buy) and pure capitalism on our part.

According to the FTC's Cleland, the disclosure now needs to be included with the same tweet, blog post, or (for all I know) Foursquare check-in as where the promotion appears. This will be fun (not!) on Twitter, but Cleland doesn't care. As he told CNET's Caroline McCarthy, if you can't give the deets, don't do the tweets:

"There are ways to abbreviate a disclosure that fit within 140 characters," Cleland said. "You may have to say a little bit of something else, but if you can't make the disclosure, you can't make the ad."

In other words, this post is probably not enough disclosure for our routine practice of using Amazon Associates links -- which we certainly want to keep using (ka-ching!). (If you know anything more, tell us in the comments please.) Blogger Whitney Hoffman suggested a #PE hashtag for paid endorsements on Twitter. We'll follow the same general practice of using tags, since repetitive disclosure can wear on readers, most of whom will never click on the links. The Amazon Associates Links tag will always be visible at the bottom of the item for all posts in which we include Amazon Associates links.


Chris United States says:

Whitney Hoffman's clearly trying to drown out the private equity tweeters!

A hashtag mayn't cut it without an education campaign. Given how ephemeral many tags are, and how the consensus for any such tag(s) will be driven by the disclosers, for their benefit of cramming in into 140, rather than the public or FTC for benefit of obviousness; the usefulness is in doubt.

Then there's the digression into whether tags should differentiate among advertisements, relationships, and associate programs; or pre-paid from "I'll only gain if you click-thru and buy"...

WOMMA's been chewing on this for last few months:

December 1, 2009 07:32 PM #

Steve Ziemba United States says:

WOMMA is working to finalize the explicit  best practices for social media disclosure for both marketers and bloggers. We invite your readers to comment on our site.  Comments will be accepted until December 15 and final guidelines will be submitted shortly thereafter.  Please go here to voice your opinion:

December 2, 2009 01:51 PM #

Whitney Hoffman United States says:

Thanks for the mention-  I think there are all sorts of "short cuts" people will try, but disclosures need to run with posts- a disclosure page alone won't cut it.  And I think this doesn't have to be tough in 99.9% of cases.

December 6, 2009 09:33 PM #

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