Last week the media (here, here and here) covered how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was going to implement new rules regulating advertising online, specifically that online sources, to include bloggers (such as myself), disclose whether they were compensated for a positive product or service review. As both a beginning and aspiring blogger and as a staunch advocate for consumer rights, this raised more questions than it answered.
The questions that sprung to my mind, and I’m sure are drawing a fuzzy picture across the coaxial and fiber cable networks are abundant. What constitutes payment? Where is the line drawn? At what point is a post or an article sponsored? Finally, how is Big Brother going to actually police this?
I write positive product and service reviews in my blog Paulie’s Picks but I don’t get paid for these posts. I did, however, have a person on the receiving end of a positive review paste my Paulie’s Picks logo and link back to my site. This raises traffic to my site and thus potential ad revenue. Is my positive review sponsored now? What if the bike store I wrote about loves that I send them business and gives me a substantial discount next time I buy a bike there? At what point does the sponsored content switch get turned on? I am no lawyer. In fact, I only got accepted to my third choice law school after blowing off my Law School Admission Test. Yet ethically the line seems to be a clear one.
When an article is written:
1) was something given in return for the writing?
2) is or was there the promise of something in exchange for the writing?
3) is material gain expected from a specific party in exchange for the writing?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then the content is sponsored. How you factually confirm the status of every piece of written content out there, is beyond me. In the meantime, I think there is a simple standard solution that can be provided. Authors can designate their work as Sponsored Content or Sponsor Free. Conveniently, I’ve provided two draft icons for such purposes. As you can see, this piece is Sponsor Free.