In the midst of the uncertainty surrounding the new regulation revisions regarding endorsements set out by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), certain parties are unclear as to whether the new changes affect their line of work or not. As the guidelines seem to cover marketers, affiliates, businesses and vendors from high class celebrities to the girl next door, it seems everyone is being tarred with the same brush.
However, this isn’t the case. Although the uproar from word-of-mouth marketers can be heard all over the Internet, this is in fact not an issue for them. The true definition of a word-of-mouth marketer is someone who endorsers products and services or provides reviews free of charge. This means it’s more of a personal accreditation to a product than a professional and contractual obligation.
The problem here is that many marketers refer to themselves as word-of-mouth marketers when they aren’t actually. For example, Mom’s writing parenting advice blogs who receive a small gift from the company or a product to test out, cannot call themselves word-of-mouth marketers in the same sense. As they have received some form of benefit, although it is not money, they have now crossed the line from word-of-mouth marketer to ‘referral marketer’, as there is an underlying sense of bias due to the free gift.
So what are the key things word-of-mouth marketers need to know about the new regulation revisions put in place by the FTC?
Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
As a word-of-mouth marketer, your job is to provide an unbiased, subjective review of the product you’re endorsing. If the company knocks on your door with a little gift to say thank you, you need to be sceptical of this. Nobody does things for free in this world. It’s quite obvious in this circumstance that the unspoken implication is that you will write a more positive recommendation regarding the product as it has been provided free of charge for your review.
In this instance, you need to remember that you have crossed that dreaded line from word-of-mouth marketer to referral marketer and your behaviour has to reflect that or you may find yourself liable. In this instance, you need to be disclosing the free gift you have been given, whether it be temporary use of a car, or a stuffed rabbit for your newborn son. The reason this is, is because the FTC feel that gifts sway the decisions you make concerning a product and consumers have the right to understand the thought process that went into the outcome you have portrayed in your review.
The Burden’s on Your Shoulders
If a company asks you to tout their product and provides you with money-off coupons or a free gift to say thank you, and you don’t declare this on your review as a small disclaimers saying you benefitted from writing the article, the blame falls on your shoulders as much as theirs and you’ll be looking to find yourself a good criminal defense law firm to help you! Although the company is held liable for misrepresentation and facilitating false claims, you, as the ‘word-of-mouth marketer’ have now fallen into the role of referral marketer, haven’t covered your tracks and are now liable for providing false information to the public. The FTC won’t hesitate to hold such marketers in contempt of their new regulations, as they would see this kind of behaviour as deceitful to consumers.
The best thing to do in this situation is to provide a disclosure. If the company specifically ask you not to include a disclaiming statement in your review, they are breaking the regulations; you don’t want that against your own reputation. Always insist on the propensity to provide a disclosure of any gifts or tokens provided by the company, or simply don’t write the review.
It’s For Your Protection as Much as Theirs
Being part of such a cynical world now, many people think twice about believing reviews, as many are paid for by companies. As a word-of-mouth marketer, your reputation will rely on honest reviews of products, meaning people will come to you knowing you’ll provide something subjective yet truthful.
By having to declare any gifts you’ve been given, as an endorser, this doesn’t undermine your integrity; quite to opposite. It proves to readers that your review is honest, despite the fact you’ve been presented with a ‘thank you’ gift. Additionally, it prevent businesses from forcing you to write positive reviews, as they now know the public can see the evidence of their bribery.
When freelance writer Emily Jenkins studied criminology at university, she considered joining a law firm similar to www.bgs.com. Unfortunately, her love to travel got in the way and she instead found herself writing articles from mountains, beaches and jungles all over the world, rather than in a courtroom, and hasn’t looked back since!