Blogging Debunking – Federal Style
By Bob Root, Keys Technologist
And it did not take a Michael Moore Film….
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), protects consumers from fraud or deceptive business practices, voted 4 to 0 to update its rules governing endorsements, and the new guidelines require bloggers and celebrities to clearly disclose any “material connection” to and including payments for an endorsement or free product.
This is the first time since 1980 that the FTC has updated its rules on the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. In addition to covering bloggers, the new FTC rules state that celebrity endorsers can be held liable for false statements about a product, and all endorsements must include results consumers can “generally expect.” Previously, an advertiser could cover their claims by the disclaimer “results not typical.”
There is not week that goes by that we receive a sort of “form letter” email from some blogger that basically threatens us that they will write a bad review of our products or company if we do not send them free products. We usually respond by asking for an audit of their readership
The new rules on bloggers are very far-reaching and appear to be attempting to create some guidelines of conduct. The past belief that inauthentic bloggers would suffer the fate of public opinion has not worked. We believe that this has not happened because most readers of blogs are voyeurs which have allowed the “bad apples” to flourish.
The new rules go into effect Dec. 1, and penalties include $11,000 in fines per violation. The FTC wasn’t specific about how disclosures must be communicated but said its decisions would be made on a “case-by-case” basis.
Beginning December 2nd, we will be turning over those email extortions we receive to the FTC.
It covers everyone!
Specifically covered in the new rules is the use of social media, such as Twitter, by celebrities to endorse a product. That is now illegal and fineable unless the commercial relationship is disclosed. So, too, are celebrity mentions of products in other media, such as talk shows.
But the new rules on blogging will have the farthest-reaching influence. They are, in effect, the first rules imposed on a general public that no longer needs access to TV, print or radio to publish opinions or create a personal media channel.
The government agency has been reviewing its nearly 40-year-old rules on testimonials and endorsements for the better part of a year, and marketers have been anticipating a change.
Natural Products and Supplement Industry Big Culprits
There are numerous situations in the natural products and supplement industry that we believe helped spark this new ruling. The natural products industry has been growing in leaps and bounds compared to conventional products for more than five years. The Natural Product Association has seen spectacular growth even in recessive times. Many manufacturers seeking to maintain growth against new small upstart companies respond, not with new products or research, but with social marketing campaigns. There is an entire new breed of marketing agency that promotes “guerilla” campaigns in the social network sphere. Another nail in the coffin of so-called WOM/Guerilla/Buzz agencies!
We have actually experienced name brand companies support a position we take at a Safe Cosmetics Compact Signer meeting only to see then blogging against our position the next day. We now know that some companies have teams of hired bloggers to attack others as well as endorsing their new product launches.
Sinister sounding? Yes! Because it is!
Detecting Sinister Bloggers
We have had this part of this article in draft form for quite a while. Our customer service team has been squawking for us to write something about how some bloggers operate because they take the brunt of all of the emails when someone writes something that reflects on us or the industry. Daily, we get emails to our customer service that start with, “I heard that someone said that….and I am afraid that…and what do you think?” Thankfully most of our customers know to write to us for information based on facts.
So, let’s have some fun with this part. Rather than beating this into the ground, we decided to give the blogging styles of these bad guys’ names and descriptions. These “types” are not just aimed at bloggers, but any advocacy group using each of these techniques to further their interests or to raise money to promote their interests.
In no particular order, these are the types of opioionators we see in the natural marketplace. Our purpose here is to give you a sense and the knowledge to detect. We hope it will help sharpen your antenna.
We on Themselves
We have heard that…. Some bloggers act as if it is an entire team of people writing each of their opinions. As if a large group has more authority than a single writer. Most bloggers are lone individuals writing without collective input. What I look for are those credible sources that use their name or at least “I” in their posts. Someone that says, “I believe…or I think” rank high on our integrity meter.
This is one I love because I hate it so much. These are blogs that offer no place to comment on what they say. Yep, no button to click to add any opinion, bolster, refute or offer opinion on what they have said. These sites seem to live by the old adage of “form god’s lips to their ears.” I believe that if a blog does not offer a place to comment, you should not read what they are writing. Just “off” them. And certainly do not click the donation button. By the way, many blogs do have a time delay before your opinion shows because most of us have an approval cycle because there is another type of blogger that uses a quick opinion followed by a promotion of their own product or blog. They usually look something like this. “Great article and if you buy my weight reduction pill form my website www.urstuck.com …”
These are people that use all of their 140 characters to question, evoke, provoke or invoke some sort of reaction. Perhaps the new ruling will eliminate these types of bloggers because they will have to use most of their 140 characters to disclose that they are being paid to provoke, evoke and invoke.
I wrote a big article all about FUD. You can read by clicking here.
FUD stands for Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. When I used to read bloggers that create fear in people I was just disgusted. It was when a young skin cancer survivor told me that she was going to stop using sunscreen because she had read that she was afraid based on a blog article written by an influential NGO in Washington DC (not the EWG). My disgust turned to pure red faced anger. Despite research study after research study, 400 in all, this scared cancer survivor now was endangering her life because of what some group had said. Sitting with her in a cafeteria at a natural food market near Dayton Ohio, I explained to her the risk and the science of why she needed to cover her skin while using sunblock on exposed skin. She and others like her were the inspiration and instigation of the number of sun protection article I have written and as resolve for us to continue our skin cancer advocacy.
If you are experience FUD, it feels first like Fear and if you search for any facts, the tern FEAR is quickly realized that to stand for False Expectations Appearing Real.
In my humble opinion, like in many EU countries, FUD users should be fined and placed in jail. Furthering your own interests at the expense of others is wrong. Endangering their lives is criminal.
A close relative to the FUD blogger is the Fire Fire Blogger. These people run from blog to blog yelling fire fire and then disappearing. They will be the one where a blog is settling into a good stream of flow where people are openly contributing and then they will shoot some sort of blast that derails the dialog. Paid to do this. I think so!
This is the seasoned anti-blogger that quotes studies that don’t exist or even worse alters a result of a study to substantiate an opinion. Hoping no one will research or even take the time to even check the study for accuracy, these blogger bend opinion with controversy based on lies
I have seen one particular group write three different articles about three different subjects using the exact same footnotes in precisely the same order. A cut and paste? Clearly! The purpose? I suppose to make people think that they really studied for the article content.
These are amazing individuals that have no original thoughts. We have long been friends and advocates for the Marin County cancer Project and their morphing into Search for the Cause. Early on we sought permission to republish their “Dirty Dozen” Chemical list and credit them in everything we write using the term. I believe that it is moral “trademarking” to honor those that created phrases or terms to help people in some way. Recently, I was directed to a blog by a customer asking why we used a “Dirty Dozen” chemical. When I went to the site, I was astounded that this blogger-writer had changed many of the chemicals to exclude the ones her product used and substituted others that competitive products were using on her list. The ingredient on her list that we used….Aloe! Yet our customer inquired and I was able to explain the lack of integrity. When I confronted the individual, her answer was, “I can say anything I want.” No you can’t when it is at the expense of others.
This sort of marketing was also recently tested by a law suit launched by Dr Bronner against a number of companies over the “Organic Seal” they had on their products. These companies chose to bend the term “organic” in some way or another to cause Dr Bronner to take legal action based on damaging their business. The detail of the case is on their website, but the point herein is that people that blog for their own gain at the expense of other is not against the new FTC ruling, but it is against the law.
The Dumb Chillers
We read them all the time in blogs where someone gets something so wrong that they appear so stupid that you never click on their site ever again. Unfortunately, they keep writing and influencing first time…hopefully only time visitors.
As an example, we were going to a pet trade show in Las Vegas. Before the show exhibitors prepare a short, 150 word, description of what people can see at their booth for publication in the show program. In our case, we were in a new section of the show called Natures Pathway indicating the first section of the show dedicated to natural products. So, in our description we wrote that our pet products contained no Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) and was based on a terrible experience we had with our pup and a brand of shampoo that nearly killed him because it had so much SLS.
So, we show up at the show and on opening day we walk by this booth with a giant sign that says No Sodium Chloride (table salt). I have to admit that I did not understand what that meant or why they would put up such a sign. One of our dealers went and asked them what that meant and the dingaling that owns the company said,” we are natural too just like those Keys people. We don’t use salt either”…Sodium Laureth Sulfate lady…not sodium chloride… Dumb Chills!
Even though it is a tradeshow story, I commonly see people and companies in their blogs saying really dumb things. Not against the new FTC ruling or the law in general. Just dumb and scary that people listen the way they do.
Seal of Approval’s
Did you know that the Skin Cancer Foundation, of which we are members, requires a $50,000.00 purchase of their seal and requires no testing to gain that seal. Many other organizations also require deep cash investments, sometimes annually, to gain their endorsement. As a consumer, what you see is a seal on your sunscreen that comes from the Skin Cancer Foundation or the American Dermatological Society etc., thinking that it is some sort of quality endorsement. Not realizing that it is purchased.
Many blogs tout certifications, memberships and endorsement as justification of their opinion. Indeed we even do this to some extent in our compliance with Safe Cosmetics and the EWG. It is when you use these certifications to justify what you do it is stepping over the boundaries of good practices
Unfortunately some companies use negative blogging, marketing and advertising to drag down others and competitors rather than improving their own products or marketing the features, benefits and advantages of what they offer. Blogging, talking and writing why others are bad and comparing negative aspects is categorically illegal in the EU, but not in the US. Dragging down a company, product or individual does not elevate that individual in my eyes.
I spend about half of my week on the internet writing, reading and offering my opinion on blogs, forums and chat areas. Much is within the technical community, but a lot on consumer and industry forums. First, I use my real name! I learn a great deal and offer opinion. Over the last five years, I have seen the characters I describe above grow to an alarming level. Often undetected, I commonly refer to them collectively as “Underground Bunnies” Often cute, fuzzy looking bloggers with ill intent, they use words that manipulate with questionable intent. They operate underground for the sole purpose of self.
Granted that what I am talking about here might appear semi-remote or disconnected from the FTC ruling> I think not! If you imagine that some sources estimate that 30% of bloggers talking about products are paid to do so, then what techniques do they use to get your attention and swing your opinion. I suggest the ones above are most common and the techniques are diverse and dynamic as there are paid bloggers.
I see this ruling as powerful and debilitating as was the crack-down on those guys that call you at dinner time. These bloggers are the same and with even more sinister intent.
I am excited about the new FTC ruling because it will level the ground and hopefully reverse this bad trend.
Am I over reacting to a small thing? I don’t think so. Keep in mind that the government…the FTC did stepped in and did something about it. How bad is it? The government acted, so it must really be bad. Worse than I even know or describe.
And it all happened without Michael Moore making a movie about it.