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October 11, 2009

Understanding the New FTC Guidelines

Clearly my WOM Enthusiast hat is on with this post. (I work with WOMMA.)

Last week was a big week for marketing, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released new guidelines (.pdf document) for how businesses can use endorsements and testimonials in marketing. It’s a complicated and nuanced matter. Hopefully the presentations below will help you better understand what has happened and what marketers must be doing now.

For backstory purposes ... the FTC is in the business of protecting consumers from unscrupulous business practices, the commission believes consumers must be protected from being influenced by bloggers who fail to be transparent and disclose they have been compensated by an advertiser. The worry, of course, is compensated bloggers may not give their honest opinion about the products or services they’ve been compensated to write about.

Word of mouth marketing works best when it is credible. Each time word of mouth is faked and manufactured, the credibility of the most trusted marketing medium is damaged.

All that said, the end game for us marketers is that any marketing program we develop to spark conversations, especially online, we need to ask for disclosure from anyone involved. Bloggers we send products to for test drive purposes, need to mention somewhere in their writing if they received the product from someone other paying for it themselves.

To help sift through the nuances of the new regulations, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) hosted a webinar last week. In this webinar, Paul Rand, WOMMA’s president elect and CEO of the Zocalo Group discussed how these new regulations will impact marketers with WOMMA’s legal counsel Anthony DiResta from the Manatt Phelps & Phillips law firm.

You can view an archived, unedited 60-minute version of the webinar on SlideShare. An edited version (10:30 minutes) can be viewed below:


During the second part of the webinar, Paul Rand asked Anthony DiResta to give a legal perspective to important questions concerning how businesses and bloggers should practically address these new FTC guidelines.

I’ve edited this Q&A discussion from the webinar into a short presentation, which I encourage you to watch below. Questions asked and answered in this presentation include:

  • How will the FTC track and monitor compliance to the new regulations?
  • Will existing online marketing programs be exempt from these new regulations?
  • Should marketers attempt to fix old blogger outreach programs?
  • Does the FTC see a difference in sending an ‘influencer’ free product versus paying someone to blog about a product?

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