Wednesday, October 7, 2009

$11K fines for free!

This link leads to an article from The Washington Post on the Federal Trade Commission's revised guidelines for corporate endorsements. As I understand the new rules, it is possible for an independent blogger to receive a fine of up to $11,000.00 if it can be proven that the product he or she wrote in favor of was received for free.

Does this mean that the person whose church provided a Bible is obliged to mention that the Bible was provided free of charge before he or she proceeds to spread the good word?

This paragraph from The Post article does a good job of summing up the fact that "professional journalists" (an occupation from the past that once paid handsomely and offered union protection and dental) have been treated to free goodies for years:

"For instance, traditional reporters and journalists have long received products and services to review. In the ethical world, brands entrusted the resulting experience with the reviewer and used corporate collateral and not monetary pressure to help sway positive exposure. In some cases those reviewers either kept products or received services, without paying for them, whether or not they ever published an unbiased review. Why are professional bloggers viewed differently?"

My favorite example of this is car reviewers at major papers getting all-expenses-paid weekend trips for the sole purpose of test driving the new product from Ford or GM. Yes, reviewer, you can enjoy two nights in a four-star hotel with lots of food and only other reviewers to fight in a crowd around the dessert bar. You can imagine the kinds of articles that are written in major newspapers and sold as the automobile "news."

In general, improved regulation of the most egeregious "undercover" or "stealth" marketing campaigns could be a good thing. We don't want our "testimonials" to be fiction whether the product is from Big Pharma or Big Book (hi, JB). But let's make sure we remember that larger entities that already control markets are the ones we're supposed to fight if we believe our anti-trust legislation is legislation that improves a democracy. An $11,000 fine will not hurt the bigs in any industry. Hmmm. Does that mean the law has been redesigned to fight the little guy?

At this point, I cannot say for sure.

But one thing I do know is that the little blogger receiving stories for free, writing favorably about them, and perhaps reselling some if possible, is most likely a book lover who would prefer to have a steady job.

Is the FTC taking applications these days?

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