Proposed FTC guidelines are a welcome upgrade

Sometime after Labor Day, we're expecting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to communicate their revised guidelines regarding the "use of endorsements of testimonials in advertising."

Sometime after Labor Day, we're expecting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to communicate their revised guidelines regarding the “use of endorsements of testimonials in advertising.” 


These changes are likely to notably impact programs that marketers use to target influential and talkative consumers online – as well as the bloggers that participate in them.


Bring ‘em on.


The likely proposed changes should be viewed by marketers as a welcome action by the Commission to update its standards and protect consumers. The FTC has to revise its rules in the wake of explosive growth in communications technology and resulting popularity of word-of-mouth marketing for companies and brands. The proposed guidelines are intended to cover social media, as well as measured media and prevent misleading endorsements from bloggers and other third-parties whom might have financial incentives to write favorable reviews.


Word-of-mouth works best when it is 100% credible and reflects honesty of opinion and relationship. Credibility cuts both ways as bloggers, endorsers, and companies must disclose relationships with each other. Full disclosure assures consumers that product testimonials are truthful and trustworthy, and it offers marketers and advertisers a proven way to reach audiences with credible information. A thriving blogging community is essential for effective and meaningful word-of-mouth online, and if bloggers always disclose their relationships with businesses, it preserves their integrity with online audiences.  


The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), therefore, supports the proposed requirement that endorsers fully disclose their relationships with advertisers and product companies. That's how we preserve the integrity of social media communications.


The word-of-mouth marketing environment is changing rapidly, the rules are evolving, and ethical practices are still being defined. During this flux time until the new rules are known, WOMMA has a simple assessment method to guide marketers and bloggers.


For marketers:

1. Be clear and distinct in asking bloggers to disclose their relationships with brands and products and any compensation they receive for participating in marketing initiatives. 

2. Encourage and expect bloggers to express their honest and genuine opinions.

3. Carefully analyze marketing programs to be sure they accurately reflect the company's  business philosophy and uphold its integrity.


For bloggers:
1. Always disclose if you have been asked by a marketer to be part of a consumer outreach program.

2. Be accurate and truthful in communicating your identity.

3. Always provide your honest and genuine opinions.


Following these simple guidelines will ensure that marketers, advertisers and bloggers are in compliance with pending FTC guidelines. More importantly, voluntary relationship disclosures will make further, perhaps more intrusive, regulations unnecessary in the future.

Paul M. Rand is president-elect of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and president/CEO of Zocalo Group

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