I haven’t written about the FTC endorsement guidelines in quite a while but some things have crossed the transom over the past month that I wanted to share with you.
First, the FTC announced the resolution of its first completed investigation in which the social media aspects of the guidelines applied – Reverb.
Short story: Reverb was accused of “astroturfing” — employees of the PR firm left glowing comments on video game message boards as though they were satisfied customers of products. No fines were assessed, but the consent decree imposes some pretty stringent requirements on the firm and its principal. Read the consent decree for the details.
Two important things about Reverb:
- The deceptive advertising laws existed – and applied to online and social media – well before the revised guidelines were issued last year. Deceptive advertising is deceptive advertising, full stop. The revised guidelines help us – advertisers and consumers – understand how the FTC intends to enforce the law. The guidelines were and are not targeted specifically at blogs.
- The FTC focused on the company and its principal, not the individuals hired to leave the comments. It was the agency providing the direction that was held accountable for the deception. This is consistent with the agency’s statements that it intends to focus on advertisers, not on individual bloggers participating in social media campaigns.
In other FTC news: the agency is going to turn its attention to Green claims. Not surprising given the greenwashing of the past few years. According to Ad Age:
“The guides are expected to tighten standards for packaging claims such as “recyclable” or “biodegradable”; regulate how marketers use such terms as “carbon neutral”; and how quickly and close to the source of carbon output “carbon offsets” must be executed, among other things.”
Another term expected to come in for scrutiny is “sustainability.”
This reminds me of the organic/natural debate. Organic is specific. Products need to comply with very specific requirements to be labeled organic. Natural on the other hand has relatively little meaning, and certainly doesn’t mean something is “good for you.” There are many things in nature that are most definitely not good for humans to breathe or consume. Carbon monoxide. Tobacco. Poison. You get the idea.
And on Monday, I read an item in Ad Week about the major US advertising associations collaborating on a mechanism for consumers to opt-out of online ads that use behavioral targeting. A move designed to forestall formal FTC action on the issue.
According to Ad Week
“Ads targeted using past Internet browsing history will carry the small logo. Clicking it will bring notice of the targeting used and direct people to a page with options for blocking behavioral targeting.”
Behavioral targeting increases the relevance of the ads to a viewer’s interests, and in that respect, benefits both marketers and consumers. On the other hand, there are legitimate privacy concerns. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. What do you think?
Update 8 October: The FTC released the proposed new green guidelines on the 6th. The public comment period ends December 10th. The agency also forestalled the game of “social media telephone” like the one that occurred last year about the endorsement guidelines (there was more misinformation and disinformation circulating at one point than actual information) by releasing a nice summary PDF of the proposed changes.