Today is the first day that bloggers and others who write online reviews or endorse products using new media must disclose it when they receive free merchandise or payment for writing about an item. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) expects the blogosphere to add a little sentence -- in undersize italics at the bottom of a post -- that reads:
A Girl Must Shop Disclosure: As a Twisted Insider, A Girl Must Shop receives a new, un-released item from Twisted Silver once per month for six months to review on our blog. The same design is also provided as a contest prize for our readers.
The revised FTC guidelines add some new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that "material connections" (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers - connections that consumers would not expect - must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other "word-of-mouth" marketers.
The new guidelines specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
So, let me the first to disclose that I got bupkis for this blog post. Nuthin', nada. Zip, zero, zilch. Heck, I didn't even get a link in the "Posted by Greg Jarboe" note at the bottom of this item.
So, I figure that this means I'm free to make the following endorsements:
The Boston Red Sox -- I grew up in Michigan as a Detroit Tigers fan -- hating the New York Yankees. So, when I moved to Massachusetts, I fit right in.
The University of Michigan -- Okay, so even I'm getting sick and tired of losing six football games in a row to The Ohio State University Buckeyes, but you gotta stick with your alma mater.
Google News -- When Google News was launched in September 2002, "the tactic known as SEO PR" was born. I owe a lot to Krishna Bharat, the creator of Google News, but no money has changed hands.
YouTube News -- This is one of the best kept secrets in the news industry. It is more "fair and balanced" than Fox News (which isn't hard) and more compelling than C-SPAN (which also isn't hard).
Experian Hitwise -- Okay, so they provide me with insights on how 10 million US Internet users interact with more than 1 million websites, across 160+ industries. But they've never paid me a nickel.
comScore -- They provide me with digital marketing intelligence that enables my readers to better understand, leverage and profit from the rapidly evolving worldwide web. But they've never paid me a dime.
Heck, I don't even get swag or tchotchke for my blog posts. Okay, I should disclose that I got a t-shirt from Acquisio at SES London 2009 that read: "I report to no one." But there was no quid pro quo involved and I've never reviewed their software.
So, according to the FTC guidelines, it's okay to make endorsements as long as there are no "material connections." Get it? Got it? Good.