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Bloggers, FTC regulations and disclosures

Blogging is just easier on a Mac

Blogging is just easier on a 15" MacBook Pro (wish I had one)

Ruh-Roh, we’ve been caught.  The FTC recently passed new regulations on bloggers.  From now on, if someone gives us something to review or asks for our endorsement of a product for some kind of renumeration, we have to admit it up front.  I know, I know, you’re probably wondering why the FTC wasn’t on top of this during last year’s primary season when Markos turned DailyKos over to the Obama campaign, no questions asked.  I mean, at least Josh Marshall was up front about taking money from the Obama campaign.  He plastered Obama ads on virtually every page and dutifully set to work trashing Hillary at every opportunity like the paid shill he was.  But, whatever, there’s no time like the present:

The F.T.C. said that beginning on Dec. 1, bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, in most cases, the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers, as occurs frequently. The new rules also take aim at celebrities, who will now need to disclose any ties to companies, should they promote products on a talk show or on Twitter. A second major change, which was not aimed specifically at bloggers or social media, was to eliminate the ability of advertisers to gush about results that differ from what is typical — for instance, from a weight loss supplement.

For bloggers who review products, this means that the days of an unimpeded flow of giveaways may be over. More broadly, the move suggests that the government is intent on bringing to bear on the Internet the same sorts of regulations that have governed other forms of media, like television or print.

“It crushes the idea that the Internet is separate from the kinds of concerns that have been attached to previous media,” said Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University.

Richard Cleland, assistant director of the division of advertising practices at the F.T.C., said: “We were looking and seeing the significance of social media marketing in the 21st century and we thought it was time to explain the principles of transparency and truth in advertising and apply them to social media marketing. Which isn’t to say that we saw a huge problem out there that was imperative to address.”

Yep, we dim bulbs in the blogosphere have to be schooled in ethics in advertising.  Actually, I was stunned to discover that companies will actually send bloggers stuff, for free, in order to get a review from them.  What could be more mutually satisfying?  The company gets a (relatively) unbiased review from a real person not working on Madison Avenue and the blogger gets to review free stuff.  Lots of it, apparently.  For example:

About three-and-a-half years ago Christine Young, of Lincoln, Calif., began blogging about her adventures in home schooling. It led to her current blog, FromDatesToDiapers.com, about mothers and families. The free products soon started arriving, and now hardly a day goes by without a package from Federal Express or DHL arriving at her door, she said. Mostly they are children’s products, like Nintendo Wii games, but sometimes not. She said she recently received a free pair of women’s shoes from Timberland.

Well, for your information, no company or politician has ever given us anything to review or endorse.  (With the exception of Eric Boelert’s book, The Bloggers on the Bus, which I dutifully read and enjoyed and disclosed.)  We’ve been doing all of this  for free.  All that stuff we said about Hillary?  Straight from the goodness of our hearts.  We just liked her.  It never occurred to us to ask for anything in return, except for excellence in governance had she been elected.  That just goes to show you how naively altruistic The Confluence is.  And we like it that way.  Because we can say whatever we like and are not accountable to anyone.

yeah

But just to be clear that we are totally on-board with the new FTC regulations, we would like to assure companies that have been holding back their products from us, that we will fully disclose any relationships with companies for products we receive and any money offered to us for endorsements as we have in the past and will do in the future.  If you are a company or institution that would like to send us free stuff for our unvarnished truth, please contact us.  Of course, we won’t take free stuff from just anyone.   We’re easy but we’re not cheap.  Here is a handy list of stuff we will review:

  • Cars
  • Houses in New Urban developments in NJ, KS, LA, CA, MA and Berlin.
  • Private Schools in NJ such as Lawrenceville, Pennington, Peddie and Hun
  • Running shoes (for over pronators with heavy heel strikes)
  • Workout clothes
  • Electronics (anything Apple for sure)
  • Clothing, size 10, M, shoes size 8 (Donna Karan, Ellen Tracy, Calvin Klein)
  • Furniture (specifically chairs, sofa tables, lighting fixtures)
  • Home improvement stores that retail bathroom vanities, mirrors, ceramic tile flooring, etc
  • House cleaning services
  • Season tickets to the NY City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera, NY Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders
  • Airline food (must be on flights to and from points outside of the continental United States, preferably Asia, South America, Australia and Africa)

Ok, we’re open for business.

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52 Responses

  1. ROFLOL! I couldn’t believe that article when I first read it. You mean people actually *give stuff* to bloggers in return for reviews? Hey, I’ll even accept free books and movie tickets, that’s how easy I am.

    • I’ll confess something. When I first got into blogging back in 2004, I was, in part, motivated by an ambition to be, one day, in a position to review books which the publishers would give me for free. But that ambition changed when the blog started to get attention.

      Early on, would hand out my phone number to pretty much anyone, as any would-be reporter must do. But then my ladyfriend and I (we shared a phone) started to get a series of strange and disturbing calls. I won’t give the details. Bottom line: She got freaked out, for understandable reasons.

      So we changed the number and made a pact: I would pursue “this blogging thing” only under the condition that I not give out personal info — phone numbers or physical addresses — to anyone. Ever. For any reason.

      That rule has worked fairly well. But it means I can’t receive swag, because I don’t give out my address.

  2. Good luck, RD with your new status as reviewer in chief. Tell us all about the goodies that will flow in your direction.

    Favorite quote though it brings a tear:
    “We’ve been doing all of this for free. All that stuff we said about Hillary? Straight from the goodness of our hearts. We just liked her. It never occurred to us to ask for anything in return, except for excellence in governance had she been elected.”

  3. During my commute to and from the personal hell I deserve for not listening to my mother I get to hear the lunatic ravings of two conservative radio talk show hosts. Last night Savage was going on about the government taking over the internet and enforcing net neutrality rules.
    Is this truth in advertising part of it?

    • Net neutrality should be a core liberal tenant. It basically means an internet service provider, say comcast, can’t filter, alter the speed, or otherwise govern the web content you can see based on their own business relations. For example, they can’t keep you from seeing companies or products that aren’t sponsoring them or they don’t get a cut from. Just imagine going to Amazon and only seeing some of the products they offer because the others aren’t approved by comcast. Similarly they can’t slow down the traffic based on the pattern or signature of the data which is a way they and others currently try to keep you from using say Skype so you’ll use their VoIP instead. And they can’t filter pages to keep you from seeing web content that might mention women’s rights for example.

      Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that someone like Savage would not want the government to enforce net neutrality.

      And of course as we’ve seen with health care and other issues, a large percentage of the legal and technical advisers Obama has collected to help him with this issue are on the wrong side, in this case most all for destroying net neutrality.

  4. I’d sure like to see the expression on the company executive when they read RD’s first “unvarnished” review of something she did NOT like that they sent her! 🙂

  5. What usually happens is the blogger gets a free item to review and gets a second identical item to give away in a contest to his/her visitors. RD could get a new pair of Nike’s to review and ask us to visit the sponsors page and come back to The Confluence and comment about what you like most about Nike, which shoes you’d buy, etc. Then using a random generator she’d pick a number and that visitor would win the same item. But some of these bloggers are getting a huge amount of things that should be reported when they file taxes. When you’re winning things like a new washer/dryer, hundreds of dollars in clothes and baby items, gift cards, coupons, etc. that must save them thousands of dollars each year.

  6. Yeah can you believe it? Unethical. To the Max. But you are so funny with that list. Ditto on purplefinns comment.
    So, after the big target-marketed nightmare we all witnessed…who will be the new watchdogs so what happened last time can never happen again?

    Hmmm……

    “Richard Cleland, assistant director of the division of advertising practices at the F.T.C., said: “We were looking and seeing the significance of social media marketing in the 21st century and we thought it was time to explain the principles of transparency and truth in advertising and apply them to social media marketing. Which isn’t to say that we saw a huge problem out there that was imperative to address.””

    Transparency.

    What a concept.

    • I’ve checked out some of these websites and – duh – virtually every blogger gives the sponsor who sent them free phones, gift cards, clothes, jewelry, etc. a good review. Are we really supposed to believe that if someone got a free laptop that they’d say something bad about the company? There is no transparency at all. A blogger could get something made with toxins or a company that pays their workers five cent an hour and they would tell their readers that it’s good for the environment as long as they are getting money or free goods from that company.

      • Uh huh. There are actual companies behind the scenes in here that set that whole deal up. For advertisers. Since advertising (lack of $$$$) is putting print out of business now by migrating into the web instead?

        That is where the icky part comes in. Somebody does need to regulate that. The comment above about RD and a review? She’d be honest. You see, what she has built here at the Conf. is something called “Goodwill” —- that is a precious thing that gets earned over time. That isn’t a thing you can just “buy” — and advertisers are totally interested in the “figures” — which equals numbers of “views” for their ads by people who stop by.

        On political advertising. Newspapers used to call those “paid politicals” — if they ran an ad — that “sentence” was a little part of the space they took up. So, it could probably be very lucrative if you blogged politics to take on “paid politicals” —- for instance — in the blog world there seem to be conservative blogs and then liberal blogs.
        Newspapers always gave their editorial writers a place for both sides? Even though at election time they would “Endorse” people?

        The best way to do that would be to give a place to both sides — and only run ads for things you truly believed in? I’m serious on that.
        And NEVER “slant” a column, ever. You just can’t or all that credibility and “Goodwill” will go right out the window. Everyone would know, anyway….

        We talked about this before last year — maybe around the time of RD’s “sofa” post? (said laughingly) —- after what happened in 2008 — you all need to watch for that happening again but I doubt we will ever see so much logo action ever. My sense is that bloggers running paid politicals are about to have a field day?

        The Conf. has a reputation that it built. Knowing RD as I have (on the page for about 2 years plus now? ) That is the most important thing to her? And see that “Best Liberal Blog” thing up at the top?
        That matters too.

        So, it isn’t a matter of running an ad, or running a paid political — it is a matter of the “honesty” of the publication. For instance, RD likes MAC things and MAC might want to run an ad on a mac friendly place someday. If RD did a review of a MAC thing? That would not have to do with them running an ad here? They just want their ad to be seen? If they tried to pay RD for a “good” review? Well… that is the unethical part. A company that did that might face an outing?

        If RD ran a shoe ad, she would just be running the shoe ad?
        If the shoe ad began to tell RD that she had to support, say, some candidate? Well, knowing RD — that would be the end of the shoe ad? I’m serious on that.

        What you don’t want to do is something called an “advertorial” — that is where it really is an advertisement except it looks like it isn’t.

        It would have helped politicians in the last election if they could have countered what happened — but when people are buying up ALL the ad space on newspapers? All the banners, footers, sidebars — Like that? Nobody else had a chance.

        The CONF endorsed Hillary. Hillary could have run an ad here?
        The Conf argues with somebody named Corzine. He could probably not run an ad here? Or he could, but he’d have to face the “heat” — of the honest editorials?

        Rd has talked about liking a certain coffee. They could run an ad here? The ads that a place runs give a certain “feel” to the stance a place has. Or takes. Some people like indy coffee or object to biz practices certain companies have? So, seeing an ad is like an “endorsement” of that?

        Some viewers might get alienated by an ad?
        Others would say, OMG, they like “that coffee” I’m their friend!
        hahahahah!
        (or bwahahahawahahahah! as the case may be.)

        Running ads would turn a blog into a business, anyway.

        Anyway Conf & Co. I was looking at the Faith Popcorn website the other day and she predicts “trends” — really interesting to see all the little videos? It was. Besides, I thought RD could use a break from those red and black makeup eyes…..!

        http://www.faithpopcorn.com/

        It was really interesting what she has to say about trends — some we have been living out for years now…..you can click on all the little videos at the bottom left and you see a movie pop up on the right side?

        When you see the one on “Clanning” — that one is really interesting —

        so are all of them as a portrait of what is going on….

    • From Gorbachev’s hit word glasnost-meaning transparency and reconstruction and shedding of corruption.

      • (Just a minor point: in Russian the word means to speak up clearly and honestly. The idea being that would stop corruption and create transparency. Not so much, as it turned out, but you gotta try.)

  7. I want to announce that as a dutiful commenter at TC, I’m available for any Porsche reviews that may be needed. Yes, I’m ready and able to sacrifice my time to take a new 911 and run it through it’s paces. And well, keep it. At least until the next model comes along for review. It’s the least I can do.

    • I review any Nissan Skyline coupes that come RD’s way.

    • I am happy to review gold bars.

    • I’ll do any handbags, or exercise equipment, or jewelry.

    • We went to see the Jay Leno show a while back and went on the NBC studio tour earlier in the day as well.

      During the tour we stopped off at a candy red convertable Jag that they had given him to see if he liked it. If he did, he could keep it. Of course, just the fact that Leno was driving their car was mobile ad space in L.A.

      Not a bad gig…a write off for Jaguar’s advertising dept.

  8. “Will blog for beer”

  9. RD,

    For running shoes try Vibram’s Five Fingers (they are now reaching enough of an audience to have been mentioned this week in the San Francisco Chronicle (sfgate.com), the L.A. Times, and they were featured previously in the New York Times. I ordered the KSOs that cover the tops of my foot. Yes, they do look weird (pockets for each toe), but being able to run as we were designed to run is an incredible feeling.

    I didn’t think I could run because my left knee, the one over my pronated foot would hurt, but with the barefoot-like shoes, the pronation is correcting itself…the muscles of the foot are strengthening. I was sold on these after listening to the audible book of McDougall’s “Born to Run.”

    I recommend all products mentioned above, but have no association with them that leads to my receiving a cent.

    • Dude,

      That’s not how it’s done. They’re supposed to give you the stuff for FREEEEE first. 😉

  10. Hm.I wonder if we could sue Obama sites for a truth in advertising violation since their product hasn’t done any of the things he was touted as being able to do?

    • Obama can truthfully claim he never said he was any of the things his zombie followers promised he was.

      Can the zombies sue the Kool-aid goggles they were wearing?

      • Sadly that’s kind of the funniest thing about all this. When Obama was saying he was not for a government component or mandates to healthcare, not for women’s rights, not for gay rights, for greater involvement of blackwater, etc, etc., the kool-aid drinkers kept saying what he “really meant”. But sadly for all of us, he said what he really meant. He is a republican.

  11. Speaking of endorsements:

  12. Houses in New Urban developments in NJ, KS, LA, CA, MA and Berlin.

    Yes! I am totally on board with this. Especially the California part. When do you think they’ll be calling?

    bwahahahahaha.

  13. FTC says they will fine an individual blogger $15,000 for failing to disclose gifts or cash received for repping a company or product. I’m thinking the FTC should get together with the FEC someday.

  14. I was supposed to get a free rainbow colored pony 😦

  15. it,s enough to make ya want to start a blog lol

  16. I would like everyone to go over to my new blog – “Jaguars are fabulous cars”.

  17. I’d blog for flower bulbs, starter tree’s (preferably magnolias and weeping birch) and hydrangea bushes.

  18. I think you might have left fine wine and chocolate off the list.

    • oh, yes, definitely, I didn’t get my list on yet, but those would be at the top for me!! Also trips to Paris, Mykonos, or any other place like that too … I’ll even test check a cruise full of pols for some one.

  19. I wonder what the rules are if a commenter mentions a product where there is some financial incentive. Seems like the bloggers would have no way of knowing and so could not be required to report. Sort of like someone on live TV blurting out a brand name.

    Not that I was going to off-handedly mention any of my iPhone apps or anything like that. 🙂

  20. Hey this goes on all the time why the surprise – a spill over from the real world to the net world

    • No! REALLY??? Say it isn’t so.
      Yeah, I think we’ve been wise to this for some time now. It has been the policy of The Confluence to not accept advertising and we’re not going to endorse stuff or people for freebies either. We know other sites do it. Some are more upfront about it than others. But as long as someone is going to offer us stuff for our unbiased opinions {wink, wink}, we might as well think big.

  21. Oh, hey,…since no one else is willing to make the sacrifice, I will bite the bullet and “test” swedish massage. However, I believe for the appropriate analysis I will need weekly massages for a minimum of one year.

    BTW, I prefer patchouli and sandlewood oils.

  22. This is crazy! Why are they cracking down on bloggers of all people??

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