FTC Endorsement Guidelines-For Real?

The FTC has declined to start an enforcement action against Hewlett-Packard Company and its public relations firm, Porter Novelli, Inc., violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45, in connection with providing gifts to bloggers who they expected would post blog content related to the HP Inkology campaign. This probably attributable to good, full-court press lawyering (I wasn’t part of it).

According to the letter, the agency decided not to initiate an enforcement action for several reasons. First, only “a relatively small number” of bloggers actually posted content about HP Inkology after they received the gift pack. And a few of those bloggers actually did adequately disclose their material connections. The agency cited one example of a blogger who kept both gift cards and called herself “a compensated brand ambassador” and another example of a blogger who described the “goodies” she received from HP.

The agency also abandoned enforcement action against HP and its PR firm because both companies revised their social media policies “to adequately address our concerns,” Engle wrote. Nevertheless, the agency made clear that it expected the companies to “take reasonable steps to monitor bloggers’ compliance with the obligation to disclose gifts they receive.”

Regardless of the agency’s enforcement choice, the uninitiated are reminded that in 2009, the FTC updated its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising that are applicable to social media, word-of-mouth marketing, and other promotions and advertising in which consumers or celebrities are given inducements to provide endorsements of products and services.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of legal fees. No fees were received in connection with this blog post.


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