The Federal Trade Commission may be going after bloggers and Facebook users.
Not just any bloggers or social networkers, mind you. Rather, the Financial Times reports, the government consumer watchdog will be cracking down on people who post false statements endorsing certain products — and the makers of those products as well.
Advertisers have recently taken to using viral marketing to sneak product endorsements into blogs and social networks. Typically, no money is involved, but bloggers and commenters are given free samples or gadgets to try out — and then keep.
The FTC doesn't have a problem with that approach. But in a sort of backhanded endorsement, the federal agency may be showing that it accepts the practice by taking it seriously enough to crack down on false claims made in this way, just as it cracks down on false claims in regular ads.
"The [guidelines on endorsements and testimonials] needed to be updated to address not only the changes in technology, but also the consequences of new marketing practices," FTC official Richard Cleland told the Financial Times. "Word-of-mouth marketing is not exempt from the laws of truthful advertising."
Advertising trade representatives contacted by the Financial Times didn't dwell on the positive aspects.
"Regulating these developing media too soon may have a chilling effect on blogs and other forms of viral marketing," vice-president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies Richard O'Brien wrote the FTC.