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What the new rules mean for film bloggers and you

October 8, 2009

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The Federal Trade Commission announced this week that it has approved final revisions to the guidance it gives to advertisers on how to keep their endorsement and testimonial ads in line with the FTC Act. What this means is that all forms of new media are now under regulation as of Dec. 1.

What this means for film bloggers, prominent tweeters or Facebookers is that if you receive a free product, your writing becomes an endorsement. The FTC can fine up to $11,000, but do have to prove the violation was against the guidelines, so if you’re a big time blogger or prominent social media type (which can be anybody) breaking the rules can be costly.

Now here is what can be misconstrued. When I receive a screener of a film, technically that means I am receiving an in-kind gift. Since that occurs, my review of the film becomes an “endorsement” under the new FTC guidelines.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I receive a screener or watch a film at a festival where I have received a media pass, I give the same critical treatment to the film as when I pay my ticket to go watch a film at Malco, or when I rent a film from Blockbuster. If I don’t like your film, it doesn’t matter how I saw it.

But I am for the FTC’s revised guidelines which had not been updated since 1980. We’ve all seen the celebrity endorsement of a product or a fanboy blogger who talks extensively about a movie only to discover he has received numerous set visits and gifts from the studio.

If it means that I have to write into every review that a screener was provided or I viewed the film at a media screening (which means the studio or festival paid for my entrance into the viewing) then, so be it. I think the statement should be clarified in every form of media and often is already. In the end, this will only help the public to determine bias — but then again isn’t all blogging inherently biased whether you receive a gift or not?

Where the new FTC guidelines can help is in celebrity endorsement. Who hasn’t watched Sarah Jessica Parker talk about the newest hair product and wondered — how much do you get paid to say you use it? When Demi Moore tweets out about a product and doesn’t disclose her relationship to the company, is that unethical?

The revised guides make it clear that celebrities have a duty to disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media. Otherwise, the concept of “disclaimers of typicality” or accompanying testimonials that do not represent experiences that consumers can generally achieve with the advertised product or service can be fined under the FTC.

Here is a breakdown of where you might see some changes:

Bloggers

Some bloggers have been known to receive a small fee in exchange for reviewing a particular product or writing a blog post about it. Under the FTC’s new rules, all bloggers engaging in this practice would have to disclose that they are receiving a fee for their blog post. Bloggers will also have to disclose any gifts they receive, such as a free gadget, book, screener, media pass since the free merchandise counts as compensation.

The thing is — most bloggers already disclose pretty readily that they received the product or why they are at a screening. If paid for reviews (and that is a rare case indeed), there is usually full disclosure.

Social networking

This is the most interesting component of the new guidelines. Social networks are also going to be monitored. For example, if a celebrity receives a product and then talks about liking it — they have to reveal that they were given the gift. So, what happens if you become a fan of a product or film on Facebook? You have to disclose somewhere (but where?) that you receive something from them. What if you are not a celebrity? Say you work for Blockbuster or Netflix and you become a fan of it on Facebook but you haven’t posted that is where you work … then yes, you have to make it clear you receive your pay from there.

Commenting

Say a filmmaker goes onto IMDB and comments about their own film. They have to reveal that they are connected — they can’t do it anonymously or leave comments without saying their affiliation. If you work for a studio and talk in a chat room that you don’t like another studio — you have to reveal your affiliation.

– As published in the Oxford Town

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 8, 2009 8:48 pm

    I just heard about this. Very interesting. It was likely happen sooner or later.

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