The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) does not like the new guidelines the FTC put out regarding endorsements and testimonials, particularly as they relate to bloggers. It feels FTC is singling them out for behavior “in which offline media have engaged for decades.”
Randall Rothenberg, the President and CEO of the IAB, fired off a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz calling the new guidelines “constitutionally dubious.”
“What concerns us the most in these revisions is that the Internet, the cheapest, most widely accessible communications medium ever invented, would have less freedom than other media,” he wrote, “These revisions are punitive to the online world and unfairly distinguish between the same speech, based on the medium in which it is delivered. The practices have long been afforded strong First Amendment protections in traditional media outlets, but the Commission is saying that the same speech deserves fewer Constitutional protections online. I urge the Commission to retract the current set of Guides and to commence a fair and open process in order to develop a roadmap by which responsible online actors can engage with consumers and continue to provide the invaluable content and services that have so transformed people’s lives.”
RBR-TVBR observation: The IAB seems to be over-reacting a bit. Although the FTC is clearly guilty of writing its guideline release in a way that caused alarm bells to go off in every sector of the media, it has since made it clear that it is not kicking off a testimonial witch hunt among bloggers or anybody else.
And we disagree that interactive sources were singled out – they were mentioned prominently because they are new, and the FTC wanted to make it clear that advertising regulations on the books apply to all media, including new media.
But a reading of the FTC release sent chills down the spine of anybody in any medium, as we can attest from personal experience (this staff has keen and personal experience with broadcast, print, online and even event advertising).
In a conference with reporters, FTC said it wants to assure that any message communicated through any medium must be indentified as such. But it laid the onus on the advertiser to make sure that this rule is followed – even in relationships with bloggers.
In other words, if we were to give a blogger a free subscription to RBR-TVBR in exchange for a favorable review, WE must make it clear to the blogger that he discloses that we gave him the free subscription. (And readers who are familiar with both the blogger and RBR-TVBR will realize that the blogger is an idiot, because ALL subscriptions to RBR-TVBR are free.) If the FTC decides the case is actionable, it will be going after us, not the blogger. And it won’t pursue the advertiser unless the offenses are egregious and repeated.
There was definitely a great amount of confusion caused by the FTC’s original release. Perhaps it would be a good idea to execute a thorough rewrite and put a new version out there that makes the FTC’s true intentions a little clearer.