The OFT has confirmed its view that online advertising, marketing and PR practices that do not disclose the fact they include paid-for promotions are deceptive under fair trading laws. This includes comments about services and products on website blogs and microblogs such as Twitter.
Online promotional activity, including that from PR professionals, must clearly identify when promotions and editorial comment have been paid for, so as not to mislead consumers.
Heather Clayton, senior director of OFT's Consumer Group, said: ‘The internet plays a key role in how people purchase products and services and the importance of online advertising continues to grow.
‘The OFT has bolstered its expertise in this area and is taking targeted action to ensure that the law is clear, increase business compliance and empower consumers.
‘The integrity of information published online is crucial so that people can make informed decisions on how to spend their money. We expect online advertising and marketing campaigns to be transparent so consumers can clearly tell when blogs, posts and microblogs have been published in return for payment or payment in kind. We expect this to include promotions for products and services as well as editorial content.’
Handpicked Media operates a network of bloggers and websites across a variety of sectors. Through the signed undertakings, it has agreed not to engage in promotional activity unless bloggers within its network prominently disclose, in a manner unavoidable to the average consumer, that the promotion has been paid for or ‘otherwise remunerated’. The company co-operated with the OFT throughout the investigation.