Matter Chatter

NYT on the gray areas between blog reviews and paid endorsements…

There’s been quite a bit of buzz lately about the FTC’s proposed guidelines regarding marketing and endorsements related to bloggers and online media in general. We’ve been closely tracking it since many of our clients pursue coverage on blogs, especially since consumers increasingly rely on third parties and their peers to give no-nonsense product reviews before they make a purchase. The NYT had a pretty interesting article yesterday that took a look at some bloggers, Twitter users, etc. who accept fees for posting about a company or product, and how they disclose that info to their readers. Nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s a well balanced article on the topic and was enough to provoke some thought internally on where this is all headed.

It’s funny – in some ways, it makes total sense for the FTC to get involved and update its guidelines, like holding bloggers liable for content they write about a product if they’re being paid to write it. In theory, it’s not that different from holding a company responsible for claims it makes in an ad.

On the other hand though, sometimes I read this stuff and I instantly hear Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler chiming in with “Really?!?! REALLY, FTC?!??!?!” because it just seems like people are honing in on something that has been happening for years and years with very little abuse and need for regulation. People don’t get upset that movie and TV critics receive screeners and advance (complimentary) viewings before rating a film or program. And we don’t question whether the opinions we get are credible and un-influenced by the fact that they got this access for free from the studio or network trying to promote its project. So why are people looking at product reviews on blogs like they are so very different than other kinds of “traditional” reviews? What do you think? Take a look at the article and weigh in below in the comments.

  • Jesse Ciccone

    The key issue here is whether or not the blogger is being paid cash to write the review. If so, they should disclose that in an upfront and clear way . Then it’s up to the consumer to determine whether or not that affects how much they trust the review (personally, I wouldn’t consider a paid-for review/sponsored post very credible).

    As far as getting the products for free and whether or not that is compensation that might affect the tone of the review, it gets a little muddier. But not much. There should still be a disclosure requirement (did the reviewer get the product for free or pay for it herself), but I think it’s appropriate for companies to send the products to the reviewers. As the blogger in the Times piece says, it’s hard to write a review of a product you’ve never tried. The value of the product (and it’s consumption/usage model) should determine whether or not the reviewer gets to keep it. So, for example, when we’re pitching High Liner’s Sea Cuisine frozen fish line, the bloggers are eating their samples, so clearly they keep them! But for Sigma’s digital cameras and lenses, the reviewers send products back after a pre-defined testing period.

    I’d like to think all bloggers/reviewers would take the disclosure responsibility seriously, but we know better than that. So, unfortunately, I believe the FTC needs to be involved to ensure appropriate disclosure. But after that, consumers need to take responsibility and use good judgment in who they trust and don’t.