Meeting celebrities, rides in limousines, private shows, free kitchen appliances, vacations and free groceries are just some of the things being offered to Mom bloggers in return for their posting and twittering over all kinds of company products. An estimated 42 million women in the U.S. take part in social media services each week, and 55% of them are regularly reading, writing or responding to blogs, according to a 2009 survey by BlogHer. Research after research has shown Mom and bloggers to be one of the most trusted referrals and companies are leveraging the blogger’s following in exchange for reviews and the blogger’s blessing.
Nestle has a program called Moms with Kids and McDonaldsmom.com enlists Moms to blog, vlog and participate in promoting healthy eating. Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and, most recently, State Farm joined the list of companies reaching out to Mommy bloggers. The insurance giant has contracted with women to create 10 episodes of their video series, MommyCast (available on iTunes, MommyCast.com and YouTube). The video series will cover topics like home buying, life insurance and childproofing your house. The videos will appear as well on a State Farm-branded YouTube channel and, through a distribution deal with Google, will potentially reach tens of millions of Web users through parenting and mom sites in the AdSense network. P&G and Walmart also have mommy-blogger outreach programs. J&J has a wide-ranging mommy-blogger strategy that includes sending out product samples and bringing select bloggers to its headquarters. Its new YouTube contest, “Big Bubblin’ Stars!,” which solicits bath time videos, is hosted by mommy blogger Christine Young, a homeschooling mother of six. And this is just a sampling.
In a world where traditional marketing is not as effect, this tactic of using influencers has become an invaluable marketing strategy for brands and is an important cornerstone of any social media plan–seeding the market. But the FTC just published new guidelines asking bloggers to disclose financial or product compensation.
The FTC expects companies to educate the celebrities, bloggers, employees and others promoting their brand and to not making false or misleading statements or claims. The guidance specifically singles out celebrity spokespeople, which includes web celebs, and will make them personally liable for false claims made about a product.
Even if a celebrity is contractually obligated to make scripted comments, they’re still personally liable if they know or should know the claims are untrue. The FTC has also put an end to the use of testimonials indicating atypical results that include the disclaimer “Results not typical.” Now, the typical expected results must be explained. Companies must also monitor these activities and take corrective action when the rules are not followed. The FTC says it’s taking these matters seriously, noting it has prosecutorial discretion and will likely target the more egregious cases and repeat offenders.
There will likely be some practical hurdles for advertisers as they work to comply with the new FTC direction. Advertisers may not be able to control every comment posted to third-party sites, but the FTC may still hold them liable for misleading claims, particularly if they did not exercise best efforts to prevent them. And, while the FTC states that “the advertiser should take steps to ensure that these disclosures are being provided,” it does not give guidance as to what it expects to see in the form of disclosures or monitoring and corrective action. Disclosure becomes more difficult in a chat room or on Twitter, where there is a limitation on the amount of content that can be posted. An evolving disclosure method in such instances is to add the text “Sponsored Post”, “#paid”, or “#Ad.” A new service at http://cmp.ly/ provides free mini-URL links to detailed disclosures and upsells monitoring services. Whether these notices and monitoring efforts will meet the FTC’s requirements is yet to be determined.
Needless to say, this causing controversy as to the ethical nature of taking freebies in return for a favorable review. Are these bloggers unbiased when they’ve received some form of compensation. One blogger, Liz Gumbinner has launched Blog With Integrity to rally support for demarcating the line between personal observations and paid posts.
What do you think?