As part of the new rules on the use of testimonials in advertising, The Federal Trade Commission in the US has decreed that anyone endorsing a product, including bloggers, should declare any compensation received. While these guidelines aren’t enforcable by law, they are intended to clarify matters for all involved, including the courts, should any lawsuits arise as a result of misguiding readers. On the surface, this sounds pretty harsh, but in fact, I think it will really help bloggers to recognise that what they say for cash may come back to haunt them. It also helps greatly to distinguish between those bloggers who already are open about how they’ve come to receive a product and those who are cagey. I’m hoping that anyone who reads my profile will recognise that most of the products reviewed on my blog are received free as part of my job as a beauty writer. I don’t make any bones about this at all. In fact, generally if I have actually bought something, that’s the big news!
I think this ruling…although basically unenforcable…will be enough of a wake up (any legalise tends to send a shiver of fear through the media world) for beauty companies and PR’s to realise that beauty blogging isn’t quite the exploitable new media that it previously may have seemed. For many new beauty bloggers, they’re simply writing about their passion in a forum where they have control, which is followed by others with similar interests. And, a big part of blogging is about being heard in a world where previously their opinion didn’t much matter. It can come as quite a shock to discover they are viewed by the media world as another avenue to get a brand noticed. With no experience in handling such relationships, it can cause untold upset, and in fact, already has.
There should be no issues in declaring an approach by a beauty or PR company; blog posts ‘sponsored by’ will become a common occurence in time. The problem lies more in emotions; feeling unable to post a negative review because the product was ‘free’, jealousy from other bloggers, the need for approval…there is a melting pot of discomfort out there. Anything that adds clarity to a very blurred situation is welcome in my book and taking open responsibility for what ends up on your blog and using sensible self-censorship is part and parcel of how good beauty blogging, in my view, should be done.
All products are sent to me as samples from brands and agencies unless otherwise stated. Affiliate links may be used. Posts are not affiliate driven.
I think the biggest problem (and what these regs are designed to address) is when a review/post is presented as being a purely consumer review if it really isn’t. This is why I’m always quite clear to distinguish “I bought this” from “I was sent this by the company/PR” when I write. A reader who comes across my blog can determine how much weight they give to each review accordingly – although if I think something is just okay, or not as good as x, I’ll say so, even if it wasn’t paid for, and if I’m totally meh about something I just don’t feature it on my blog.
Being sent something isn’t an obligation to review it, and if a PR is putting pressure on a blogger to review something in a certain way, I wouldn’t want to have a relationship with that PR in any case. I blog for fun, and it should be that.
Totally agree, Grace. And thanks for this post. It’s great to see what exactly is the law. I hope all the top gurus are aware of this law because they really carry a lot of power and influence over naive young viewers who may end up financially or emotionally hurt.
I think it’s a really good move to have that regulation in place, as not every blogger knows that you’re supposed to say whether something is bought or “sponsored” by a company. Most of my reviews are done using things I bought or gifts from friends, and I specify clearly if it’s from a company. Getting freebies doesn’t change my view about a product, if it’s a dud then it’s a dud…
I do hope that other bloggers will read this post and take note. Eventually the time will come when legally this will be put to the test.
Well said everyone. I agree! Will be interesting to see the long term impact of this legislation and the ongoing debate in blogsphere.