How to Comply with FTC Guidelines

August 20th, 2015

How to Comply with FTC Guidelines

To expand on yesterday’s post on how brands are balancing good marketing with lawful compliance, I interviewed a brand who emphasizes ethical marketing and double checks that all of their blogger outreach complies with FTC Guidelines.

Erin Gleeson is the outreach specialist at 1-800-PetMeds, where she handles their blogger outreach and the blogger program.

Q: Can you give a brief background on the type of posts you ask for from bloggers, and how you compensate them for said posts?

The blogger program is a paid program in which we compensate bloggers monetarily for their posts. Other posts outside the program may be compensated in other ways, including merchandise credit and donations to animal rescues in their names.

Since we are an online pet pharmacy, most of our products are medications or are designed to help with medical conditions. This can make it difficult to do the typical product reviews or giveaways!

However, we work with bloggers to spread the word about any contests or sweepstakes we might be running, as well as to promote our animal shelter donations program, PetMeds Cares. We have also recently started a blogger program to work with bloggers to use us and our website as a resource in educational posts.

We have a large amount of content about pet health conditions and treatments, and we also employ the largest number of pet pharmacists of any U.S. company. Our pharmacists, who are specially trained in veterinary medications, are great resources for bloggers looking for more information about a medication for pets.

Q: What do you ask of bloggers when it comes to making sure that you are covered legally and what they should disclose?

We require that bloggers be up-front about how they are working with us and what we have provided them in return for a sponsored post. This disclosure is required whenever we give them anything of value, such as monetary payment, merchandise credit, product, or donations in their name.

This also applies to social posts! If a blogger tweets about a contest as part of a sponsored promotion, they must include #ad or #sponsored to show that the post is sponsored by us.

We also require that bloggers follow Google’s regulations on no-follow links; if they link to our site in a sponsored post, they have to add a no follow attribute to that link. Google has strict rules about paid links and considers links in paid posts to fall under this.

Finally, we ask that bloggers are honest in sponsored posts and write about their experience, thoughts, etc. If we were to work with a blogger on a product review, we would expect the review to talk about his or her actual experience with the product and honest opinion of it.

Q: If a blogger doesn’t disclose their relationship with the brand, who gets in trouble? The blogger, the brand, or both?

According to the FTC, the brand is the responsible party for ensuring that the FTC Guidelines are followed. The FTC might look into the brand and could open up a case against the brand. The blogger typically would not be in trouble, but the FTC has said violations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Bloggers should still be cautious and disclose! Just because the FTC hasn’t opened a case against a blogger to date doesn’t mean that they won’t in the future.

Q: Have you ever had to ask a blogger to remove or edit a post because you were worried it didn’t follow disclosure rules?

We have asked bloggers to edit posts if they lacked disclosure or clear enough disclosure. Social posts are more difficult, as they tend to have a shorter lifespan and may not be caught in time. If we notice a blogger or influencer posting to social media about a paid post and leaving out disclosure (such as #ad), we will ask them to include it on any future posts.

Q: What is your number one piece of advice for brands working with bloggers when it comes to the legalities of disclosing the relationship?

It’s always better to over-disclose! Including more than the minimum will never get you into trouble, whereas leaving out a piece of disclosure (or not including disclosure in social) could very well get your brand in legal trouble with the FTC.

Paid posts are becoming mainstream, and readers (hopefully) understand that bloggers need to be paid by brands to continue writing. If the brand and blogger have an ongoing relationship, and the post really is a genuine expression of the blogger’s thoughts and opinions, the post should come across as genuine. In this case, the disclosure shouldn’t affect the reader’s opinion of the post’s validity. Having a disclosure at the beginning of a post stating that it was in some way paid will not ruin the post’s credibility.

Do you have any tips when it comes to legally disclosing influential relationships? Weigh in using #outreachmarketing, and let’s chat!

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