The FTC’s investigation of Ann Taylor about its blogger endorsement practices offers both insight and lessons to marketers.
Ann Taylor is off the hook for now. The FTC has closed its first blogger investigation primarily due to the quick after-the-fact action by Ann Taylor to put in place an internal policy surrounding the use of blogger endorsements.
Its April 22, 2010 letter to Ann Taylor LOFT, contained the FTC’s parting words: "The FTC staff expect that LOFT will both honor that written policy and take reasonable steps to monitor bloggers' compliance with the obligation to disclose gifts they receive from LOFT."Ann Taylor got into hot water when a few bloggers failed to disclose they had received gifts after being invited and attending a January 2010 “exclusive preview” of the Ann Taylor Summer 2010 clothing line. ATL additionally promised bloggers that anyone posting about the event within 24 hours would be entered into a drawing to win gift cards valued between $50 and $500. Reportedly, Ann Taylor posted a sign at the event advising bloggers to disclose the gifts if they posted about the preview.
For marketers Ann Taylor’s situation is a glimpse into the FTC’s intentions surrounding enforcement of FTC guidelines – and provides important lessons when using blogger engagement strategies:
• It is essential marketers implement and enforce a written policy advising employees and all marketing agency personnel of their obligations under the FTC guidelines to advise bloggers to disclose any gifts or connection between the company and the blogger. The fact Ann Taylor had adopted such a policy (albeit, after the fact) was the key element in the FTC not recommending enforcement action.
• Marketers must not only advise bloggers of their obligation but must monitor to ensure compliance.
• The FTC is likely to focus on more egregious cases and this was perhaps just a shot across the bow, but it is clear the FTC holds there is no minimum exclusion for gifts. In this case as little as $10 is enough to trigger disclose obligation.• The FTC will stick to its promise of focusing on advertisers, not individual bloggers.
It is generally expected the FTC will be providing additional guidance in the months to come.
[ Resources for you ]
An interview with FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, Director David Vladeck for background on FTC's broad enforcement agenda.
Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
The initiative, Admongo.gov, seeks to raise awareness and critical thinking among young consumers about how advertising works, the importance of being an informed consumer and how to analyze and interpret advertisements.The website includes a game for kids, at-home resources for parents and curriculum for teachers. Bureau of Consumer Protection Director, David Vladeck, explained in an NBC interview, that the FTC is not taking a position on advertising, but believes that kids need tools to navigate the “intensely commercial environment they live in” and must have the ability to distinguish between advertising and content.
The initiative was given the nod by and a link from the National Review Council, which is the ad industry’s voluntary self-regulatory body. PR agency, Fleishman-Hillard was instrumental in the development of the campaign, and Vladeck says they tapped into their knowledge of the “tricks of the trade.” Scholastic is handling the nationwide distribution of materials to students and teachers with the FTC.
[ Resources for you ]
FDA violation letter may signal it considers webcasts promotional materials.
A recent notice of FDA violation letter sent to Biogen Idec may indicate that the FDA is gearing up to treat all social media interactions, including webcasts, as promotional materials - even when the purpose of such webcasts is to inform physicians.
At issue were eight webcasts, which were used to update neurologists on the safety profile of Tysabri for multiple sclerosis. The FDA found the webcasts included numerous statements that minimized the risks of contracting PML, a potentially fatal brain infection.
We still await the FDA's promised guidelines on social media marketing.
[ Resources for you ]
The Bryan Cave Pharma Bulletins