When it comes to the new FTC regulations regarding disclosure in advertising, the best way to learn what to do is to read the examples given in the Guidelines themselves, or to see examples of how disclosure is done well, so you can model your disclosure accordingly.
Blogging/Magazine Article Example
One great example is a piece that Kristin Brandt from the Manic Mommies podcast did in a recent article for Real Simple Magazine. For “teaching” purposes, I’l excerpt some examples here, with permission of the author. Kristin was reviewing different sets of headphones, several of which she has acquired in association with her podcast, Manic Mommies.
Here’s what I’ve discovered – there is no one perfect solution. Instead, I’ve found a couple favorite headsets which, together, make the (almost) perfect solution for me:
Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic ($79)
I’m certainly not the first person to complain about the earbuds which come with my iPhone (my biggest issue is they wouldn’t stay in my ear). But I liked the combination of a headset which I could use to listen to podcasts and music, as well as talk on the phone. So, upon the recommendation of some of my Facebook friends, I purchased a pair of Apple In-Ear Headphones, which come with three sets of ear cups, meaning I could select the size which worked best for me (and stayed in my ear).
I don’t really use the remote function of the headset, so if I had to do it again, I might chose the JBL ROXY In-Ear Headphones with Microphone which has the same listening/speaking capability at half the cost.
In this first paragraph, Kristin talks about what she purchased and who recommended them to her. She probably did not have to say her Facebook friends recommended these to her, and she was not legally obligated to do so, but it works with the narrative perfectly, and sets up the other sources of the products below. This is probably a case of more disclosure than perfectly necessary, but it also sets her up as a credible source, because she is talking about where she gets her information before trying a product. Next paragraph:
iFrogz Ear Pollution Toxix ($19.99)
Sometimes, like when I’m exercising or editing our podcast, I just want a simple pair of headphones. I have a ton of “free” headphones kicking around the house, but most slip off my head and have terrible sound quality.
When I was sent two pairs of Toxix headphones to try, I actually thought they were for the kids. But after using them while on the treadmill, I came to appreciate these deceptively cute pair of headphones. They are well designed to stay on your head, even if you are bouncing around, they are tough enough to throw into my laptop case and at just under $20 I don’t worry about letting the kids use them. My kids have co-opted the headsets we received, which gives me an excuse to buy a pink pair for myself.
This is a great example, where Kristin says she was sent two pairs of headphones to try, and liked them enough she’s willing to buy a pair herself. While she might want to say who sent her the headphones, she has disclosed that she did not purchase them herself- this is an example of a good disclosure that lets the reader know what the writer has received and they can figure out the credibility of the writer accordingly. Example Three:
Jabra Halo ($129)
I’ll admit that I’ve dreamed of being able to cut the cord, and listen to my iPhone without a headset cable getting in my way (how many times have I dipped a cable into paint or caught it on something). Which is why I was so excited when we received the Jabra Halo Stereo Bluetooth headset at Manic Mommies HQ. After charging the headset, I was able to pair my iPhone to the headset and was soon listening to tunes sans wires. It was awesome.
I did have one issue with the headphones – the volume control is, well, difficult to control. Sliding your finger up and down the side of one of the ear pieces is supposed to control the volume. But I found it was very touchy and, in the end, I didn’t seem to be able to control the volume much. They also cost more than I would normally pay for a pair of headphones, so I can understand how they may not be right for everyone.
Again, Kristin discloses that they got this headset through Manic Mommies HQ- clearly a promotional item sent to them, in hopes they would review it. Kristin then does a great review of the pros and cons of the item. We know she did not purchase the item herself, and her review seems honest and straightforward. This should please both the person promoting the headset and the FTC because the review is based on the experiences of an actual user, with disclosure as to what sort of exchange or quid pro quo (ie. sample headset) was involved, so any consumer could figure out the believability of the review.
Another great example of disclosure can be found on almost any episode of Marketing Over Coffee. Chris Penn and John Wall regularly not only thank their sponsors, but when talking about their use of Blue Sky’s email service, or Hubspot’s various products or ventures, they mention that they have also been sponsors of the show. No one is left with any unclear or misleading impression of what Chis and John’s interest in promoting the sponsors might be, and when they talk about the products and services, they are doing it as genuine customers of the services they discuss. As long as Chris and John disclose the name of the sponsors, and whatever products they get to use or play with, if provided for free or as part of a larger sponsorship or product placement, they satisfy all the FTC requirements well.
Chris does Marketing over Coffee on his own; it’s not part of his job at the Student Loan Network. But you’ll notice if Chris talks about his day job, it’s an example of what they do during the day. This could be seen as a promotion or testimonial about the day job, however, this is not a communication covered by the new FTC regulations. Why? Because the Student Loan Network is not and has not paid Chris to talk about their products on Marketing Over Coffee- there is no quid pro quo regarding Chris’s possible endorsement on Marketing over Coffee and its blog. Therefore, no disclosure is necessary. Chris is clearly interested in having us all use the great services the Student Loan Network provides, because it’s what he does, but this is not a paid endorsement, so it is not subject to a fine if Chris talks about his day job and forgets to mention the name of his company at the time.
Current Example- This Post
The information given above has not been paid for by anyone nor written in exchange for any product or service- it is a non-commercial transaction. I don’t even have any affiliate ads other than a link to my Amazon Store on the “Building Blocks” page of this site, so I will tell you that all the content I produce here is done free of any sponsorship whatsoever at this point. If you decide to buy a book I like from my Amazon store, they will give me a few pennies as a bounty on the sale, so to speak, but it’s usually less than a dollar per book- equivalent to a postage stamp.
I have, on occassion, received an item in the mail and have disclosed where it came from when I have reviewed the same and will continue to do so.
Now, while I do not formally have to disclose that I happen to know and like John, Chris and Kristin and consider them all friends, it’s probably something that makes these examples more valuable to you, the reader. And this is what is at the heart of the FTC’s new guidelines- they want to make sure consumers and readers of reviews, endorsements and testimonials understand what they can realistically expect and make sure they aren’t getting ripped off. They have to have information to know how biased the reviewer may or may not be; they have to have information in order to judge the trustworthiness of the reviewer before the rule of Caveat Emptor or “Buyer Beware” takes over.
I wouldn’t have to disclose any relationship with anyone in these examples, because this is a non-commercial transaction, at best taking place within the Trust Economy, as Chris Brogan and Julien Smith might say. It’s outside the regulation of the FTC, since there isn’t an exchange or expectation of a quid pro quo.
I hope these examples help- please keep asking questions in the comments, and I’ll try to help you sort out what may or may not be covered. Again, the regulations go into effect December 1, 2009, and we’ll learn more and more about what’s okay and what’s not as more and more cases in the gray area are brought up.
And the bottom line is: when in doubt, disclose. These are good rules, helping everyone be straightforward and honest about their opinions and biases for the public. There’s nothing onerous and evil about any of this. And if we’re lucky, blatant spam on social networks might ease up a bit, too. Here’s hoping.