The U.S. Government has started rattling its sword at bloggers, saying it thinks bloggers should disclose when they have been paid (or given a free product) for a review.
The FTC guidelines concerning endorsements and testimonials already contain this text: “endorsements must reflect the honest opinions or experience of the endorser, and may not convey any representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser.” In other words, anyone that does an endorsement must tell the truth. If we, as bloggers, choose to endorse a product or service, we are already bound by this guideline. Why must we also tell people it’s a paid (or traded) endorsement? Why the second rule? Is the Government foolish enough to think that a blogger who is already breaking the honesty rule will think twice about breaking the notification rule?
I’m not so naive as to think that there are not bloggers in the world whose good review can be bought, or even companies that will fake reviews – I know they exist. We all know. I suspect, the public at large knows it too. To support their logic for adding new rules, the FTC pointed out a few companies that were in blatant violation of existing guidelines. One company, Urban Nutrition, created www.weknowdiets.com and www.googlediets.com. These web sites gave the illusion of real product reviews. However, the sites always had Urban Nutrition’s own products listed as the best. Reading about it sounds bad, but when you look at the sites, I think you’ll agree that any reasonable person could conclude they are full of crap. In my opinion, adding a notification to these sites would not have made a difference.
Does the Government think people are so dumb they won’t notice when every review a blogger does for a company is positive? Or, will they not notice that some links are more prominent than others? Do they think people read one review on one blog and say to themselves “OH.MY.GOD! I have to buy that right now!” It seems that they do.
The truth is, when people shop for almost anything they rarely buy the first thing the salesperson shows them. Most of us get second, third or even fourth opinions. Are these pants too big? Noooo, they are great, just cinch ’em.
Linda A. Goldstein, an advertising industry lawyer is quoted in a recent NY Times article as saying: “It’s analogous to a studio inviting critics to a free premiere. Taken to its logical conclusion, those critics would have to disclose in their review that they were allowed to see the movie for free.”
What’s next? If my kid gets a free balloon at our local pizza joint, will I be required to disclose that to my co-workers when I tell them the pizza was good? Will they then be less likely to believe me? Would Stone Phillips appear from thin air and bust me on national television if I didn’t tell anyone about the free balloon?
We already have enough rules the Government can’t possible enforce – why add to the list? Let’s all starting using the thing between our ears, and show them we’ll be fine without protection from the big bad bloggers.
My point is that people have to use their head for more than just a hat rack. Sure it’d be nice to live in a world where nobody lied and everyone was happy all the time, but then there always be that witch flying over head doing her crazy sky-writing about Dorothy. We can’t sit back and expect the government to protect us from everyone and everything that might be even a little bit bad for us. As a people, we shouldn’t even WANT that. We have to think for ourselves. We have to be smart, informed consumers.
After all, this is the Internet, not the wonderful world of Oz.