The ins and outs of product reviews.
To support the information related to the FTC Guidelines from Greg Sater of Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff, please find a series of tips for bloggers posting entries about product endorsements and product reviews.
1.) When in doubt, disclose.
If you're writing a review or making an endorsement and you receive the product for free, that fact needs to be disclosed clearly and conspicuously, because it's considered a "material connection." Failing to disclose the material connection can subject the blogger to liability. Also, the blogger can subject the maker of the product to liability if they are using the blogger to promote or review their product. "Clearly and conspicuously" means that a reasonable person must be able to understand the connection. I recommend bloggers declare the material connection by simply putting an asterisk next to the information, with a clear statement that the blogger received a free product from the maker.
2.) Brag about your strong ethics.
I suggest that bloggers also include in their disclosure that the material connection has no impact on the blogger's reviews or product endorsements. Something simple like, " While I do have to disclose that I received a product sample for free from the company, in my opinion that has no impact on my comments about the product or my endorsement," reassures readers that you are still a valuable resource for them. You need to comply with the FTC guidelines by disclosing the "freebie" you got, but that doesn't prevent you from telling your readers, at the same time, that in your view, despite that "freebie," your opinions about the product are reliable and credible.
3.) Remember the definition of 'endorsement.'
An endorsement is anything you say that reflects your beliefs or your findings about a product based on your own personal experience with it, or your own use of it. Simply stating that a company has a new product and readers should take a look is not an endorsement in itself.
4.) False statements can cost you.
Bloggers can be liable for saying something about the product that is not substantiated, especially if they have a commercial interest of any kind. For example, if the maker or marketer of a skin product doesn't say it cures eczema, but the blogger says it does, the blogger could be found liable for false advertising if there is a financial connection.
5.) Beware of 'watchdogs.'
Expect product owners and marketers to be much more careful about working with bloggers under the new FTC guidelines. They will be supervising what bloggers are saying about their products much more so than they have in the past, becasue they also are exposed to liability issues. Bloggers should expect more direction from marketers, such as instructions or requests on how to review their products, reminders of the new FTC guidelines, product capability limits, etc. Bloggers that don't abide by the rules may no longer get complimentary products for review.
6.) Know what's protected.
A purely informational blog is protected by the First Amendment. However, once bloggers receive something of value, they cross the free speech line into being an arm of the marketer. The FTC no longer views you as a mom from home - you're now part of the marketing of that product. Any public statements in a commercial setting should follow the new guidelines.
7.) You can still enjoy some freebies.
If the blogger received a free product sample in an indirect manner, such as getting it from a store for free, disclosure is not necessary in a blog posting, because it's not from the marketer. Remember, the FTC's target is the blog that's biased in favor of a product because of a financial connection.