Tuesday, October 6, 2009

No Freebies Here

The Federal Trade Commission is considering changing the rules regarding the relationship between advertisers and people — i.e. bloggers — who review their products.

The F.T.C. said that beginning on Dec. 1, bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, in most cases, the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers, as occurs frequently. The new rules also take aim at celebrities, who will now need to disclose any ties to companies, should they promote products on a talk show or on Twitter. A second major change, which was not aimed specifically at bloggers or social media, was to eliminate the ability of advertisers to gush about results that differ from what is typical — for instance, from a weight loss supplement.

For bloggers who review products, this means that the days of an unimpeded flow of giveaways may be over. More broadly, the move suggests that the government is intent on bringing to bear on the Internet the same sorts of regulations that have governed other forms of media, like television or print.

I don’t have a problem with bloggers getting freebies in exchange for promoting a product; that’s how advertising and promotion works. I do agree that it’s a good idea to expect them to say up front that they got something in exchange for it, regardless of what they actually write, but that’s a question of ethics more than capitalism; it’s pretty easy to tell to tell the difference between a blogger and a “blogger” who is a shill for a company or a product. In the first place, the “blogger” never writes about their cat puking up a dead mouse.

This is a separate issue from blogs with ads. A lot of them have them, including blogs that I contribute to. But they have no impact whatsoever on the content of the blog; in fact, I know the keeper of at least one blog who reviews and often refuses ads from products or services that go counter to the blog’s philosophy. And then there are blog ads that are humorous in their juxtaposition through the quirk of blog ad aggregators: for example, an ad for Newsmax.org on TPM. It happens, and both parties are quick to point out that they don’t review or predetermine where the ads will run or who will see them.

Just so you know: no one has ever offered to give me anything in exchange for a review or an endorsement. I presume that’s for two reasons: first, this is pretty much a political blog by default, so I suppose advertisers don’t want to be affiliated with a particular point of view; second (and more likely), this blog doesn’t generate enough traffic to make it worth their time. (The Ford Motor Company has never offered me a free car for driving a Mustang and keeping the name of the car out there for them. I should be so lucky.) And frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever accept ads here. For one thing, I don’t want them cluttering up the joint. And then, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I don’t think I’d buy a product or service that would want to advertise on a blog like this.