Attention Mom Bloggers: The FTC Would Like a Word With You
Big news in the blogosphere. The Federal Trade Commission is considering adapting its guidelines to require bloggers to identify their sponsors. There's a worthwhile article arguing both sides of the issue in last week's U.S. News Weekly.
Essentially the folks in support of FTC watchdogs argue three things:
1). Social media creates new forms of public communication that didn't exist a decade ago and that, unlike other forms of advertising, let marketers advertise covertly.
2). Word-of-mouth advertising is only effective if it's authentic and that consumers deserve to know the motivation behind an endorsement.
3). Self-regulation and policing are not viable solutions.
On the other side of the fence, folks against FTC regulations argue:
1). The industry-standard guidelines provided since 2005 by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association for ethical online disclosure and transparency are adequate.
2). Bloggers who deceive online readers are already subject to the worst punishment of all: online vilification of their brands that spreads like wildfire.
3). Voluntary relationship disclosure will make legal restrictions unnecessary in the future.
Who is right?
Personally, I lean in favor of the new regulations. This is an unpopular position for someone in the ad business, I realize. Yet the personal nature of blogs insinuate an authenticity that doesn't always exist.
To put it another way, ads look like ads, by virtue of their placement in mainstream media, slick production, recognizable spokespeople, stated call-to-action, etc. Blogs are a different animal entirely, already dipping below the radar of consumers by their first-person voice and anecdotal style. Bloggers and copywriters both use words to describe products or services. Both get paid to do so (at least the bloggers relevant to this issue). Why should the blogger be able to pocket money for an endorsement without disclosing the arrangement?
Let me be clear about one final point.
I don't think these disclosures will kill the phenomenal WOM enjoyed by many brands via their relationships with bloggers.
Rather, I think the really talented bloggers -- those who earn the trust of their readers through well-crafted postings and a demonstration of care for one's followers -- will continue to help build brands they endorse.
That's my opinion. What's yours?