Independent consumer reviews of products and services found online via blogs and other forms of word-of-mouth marketing can fall under the FTC’s scrutiny when the reviewer is compensated for positive appraisal.
The proposed revisions call for “testimonials that do not describe typical consumer experiences” be accompanied by “clear and conspicuous disclosure of the results consumers can generally expect to achieve from the advertised product or program.”
“FTC staff attorneys are reviewing the public comments that have been made regarding revisions to the guides,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director of FTC’s division of advertising practices. “The FTC staff will come up with a recommendation to the agency's commissioners about whether the guides should be adopted in final form or whether further revision is needed. It is likely that the commissioners will vote on the matter some time this summer.”
In a statement, the FTC makes clear that what it is proposing are guidelines, not regulations and thus have no civil penalties associated with them. However, advertisers that do not abide are subject to investigation by the FTC.
“Those who are compensated to promote or review a product using these [current online marketing] techniques are not exempt from the laws governing truthful advertising,” Cleland said.
The guides have not been revised since 1980. The FTC said it does not purport to cover every possible form of endorsement in advertising, however will depend on specific factual circumstances if investigation into an endorsement or testimonial is deemed deceptive.
The proposed guidelines do not clearly specify what affect the planned revisions will have on affiliate linking, however it is speculated that such partnerships that are clearly illustrated will not be affected.
The future of bloggers that receive free samples to review also is unclear.
“Obviously, direct payment would constitute a paid testimonial, and in at least some situations, free samples could be considered compensation,” said the FTC in a statement. “However, we have received a number of comments on this issue and we are currently considering what recommendation to make on that point.”