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FTC Endorsement Guidelines for bloggers

Posted: October 6th, 2009 | 1 Comment »


federal-trade-commission-ftc-logo_jpgThe FTC guidelines for endorsements have been published and can be found here.  There are three main sections of interest to bloggers, and the marketers who support their voice.

1)      Definition of endorsements/testimonials

2)      What is required of the consumer contributors and marketers

3)      Disclosing ties to marketers


Additionally, there is a fourth part that concerns only the marketer, which comes into play if they use/feature the blogger’s testimonial in an advertisement.  Then, common sense would kick in that the content needs no less care than they apply when they write a scripted ad, such as claims reviews.  I’ve not covered that here due to the inapplicability to bloggers on how marketers use their content, but will in future postings.

The FTC seems to be focusing on bloggers “because he or she is known to have wide readership within a particular demographic group that is the manufacturers’ target market.”  By acting as the ‘speaker’ of the content, and also as the publisher of that content to their audience, the FTC seems to believe that the blogger was selected by the manufacturer to receive some benefit (ie free product, payment) because of the blogger’s direct ability to spread the message to their target market.    The FTC seems to equate a blogger’s following with a celebrity’s following — and indeed celebrities are similarly covered in the new Guides.  Essentially, the blogger was acting as a conduit for a marketing message to be delivered to his or her following.  If the blogger chose to deliver that message, the blogger becomes part of the direct advertising chain.

While the main guidelines begin on page 55, there are a lot of interesting materials in the “Supplemental Information” that covers consumer generated content, including around pages 8-15, a39 and 51.  I’ve summarized and tried to interpret from my non-legal reading of the document.  The following are some more detail on the three main points for bloggers and other consumer contributors.


1)  Definition of an endorsement or testimonial covered by the Guide

The FTC is saying that anytime there is a known, agreed upon tie between the blogger and marketer, this is an endorsement.  Here is an example that they used to help you determine what they’re looking for as a tie between you and the marketer.

  • Example 8:  A consumer who regularly purchases a particular brand of dog food decides one day to purchase a new, more expensive brand made by the same manufacturer.  She writes in her personal blog that the change in diet has made her dog’s fur noticeably softer and shinier, and that in her opinion, the new food definitely is worth the extra money.  This posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.Assume that rather than purchase the dog food with her own money, the consumer gets it for free because the store routinely tracks her purchases and its computer has generated a coupon for a free trial bag of this new brand.  Again, her posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.  Assume now that the consumer joins a network marketing program under which she periodically receives various products about which she can write reviews if she wants to do so. If she receives a free bag of the new dog food through this program, her positive review would be considered an endorsement under the Guides

The FTC included some “supplementary information” to help clarify their position, especially based on the thoughtful comments provided by some of our colleagues at WOMMA and BzzAgent.  The FTC said that they would need to look at the overall relationship between the blogger and the marketer, such as:


  • Whether the speaker is compensated by the advertiser or its agent
  • Whether the product or service in question was provided for free by the advertiser
  • The terms of any agreement
  • The length of the relationship
  • The previous receipt of products or services from the same or similar advertisers or the likelihood of future receipt of such products or services
  • The value of the items or services received.


These would go into the decision whether the blogger was disseminating a marketing message to his or her following.  My advice to bloggers is not to spend a lot of time trying to decide if you are covered by these definitions.  If you’re not sure, err on the side that you are.   The FTC believes that the advertiser selected you to blog about their content because you have influence with your audience.   Therefore, the FTC wants to ensure that your communication over the audience you have built is taken seriously when an advertiser-requested message is attached.

2) Taking responsibility for what you say in your content

When something is considered an “endorsement” and covered by these Guidelines, what needs are your new responsibilities expected by the FTC?  Basically, they want you to take responsibility for what you say and how far you go when describing the product benefits.  You shouldn’t make product claims that aren’t your personal experience with or opinion of the product.  For example, you shouldn’t say that the product will do the same thing for everyone since you don’t know that is 100% true.  If you do, the FTC believes you should take responsibility for these claims that are misleading or not supported by evidence.  That’s what marketers currently do when they write ads and tout claims.  They have to back up everything they say with evidence.



The FTC believes that marketers should help guide you in the types of claims you can make, and monitor your content to make sure it conforms.  However, it believes that you and the marketers share liability since you’re both in a relationship together.

An observation from the Guide:  The FTC seems to take a position that if you speak about your personal experience with the product, and keep it to your own opinion of the product, that this may not be making a product claim.  I’m not quite sure about this yet, but there was some language that seemed to imply that.

3) Your responsibility includes disclosing your relationship with the marketer

This section is simple to the extent it is what it says.  If you have a relationship with the marketer, you should disclose it.  As discussed in the definition of an endorsement, the relationship can include where you are paid or get free product.  Again, my advice is not to quibble with whether you are covered, and simply disclose whatever relationship you have with the marketer.  The Guides don’t really discuss how to disclose the relationship, but it should be obvious and clear to anyone that is reading your blog.

  • The blogger is also liable if she fails to disclose clearly and conspicuously that she is being paid for her services.
  • For example, an individual who regularly receives free samples of products for families with young children and discusses those products on his or her blog would likely have to disclose that he or she received for free the items being recommended.  Although the monetary value of any particular product might not be exorbitant, knowledge of the blogger’s receipt of a stream of free merchandise could affect the weight or credibility of his or her endorsement – the standard for disclosure in Section 255.5 – if that connection is not reasonably expected by readers of the blog. Similarly, receipt of a single high-priced item could also constitute a material connection between an advertiser and a “sponsored” endorser.
  • If the blogger is actually paid by the advertiser or a third party acting on its behalf, disclosure certainly will be warranted.
  • Example 7:  A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences.  Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software.  As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement.  Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.


I am going to write more shortly on these rules.  We believe that ever more than before, Expo continues to act as the clearinghouse for the best way for consumers to engage in authentic, helpful and relevant product dialogue.


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One Comment on “FTC Endorsement Guidelines for bloggers”

  1. 1 Polprav said at 8:49 am on October 16th, 2009:

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

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