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Keeping Your Product Reviews Legal

Originally posted at ibusinesslegal.com

We’ve all heard the stories.  They’re almost like folklore now, but we’ve heard of bloggers amassing copious amounts of swag from brands eager for them to share their positive endorsements and testimonials with their legions of loyal and impressionable followers.   Trips, household furnishing, toys, and more!  Those were the days.

Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)–a federal body that protects against scams, frauds and other malicious behavior–has a little something to say about all those blogger perks.   These guidelines aren’t super-new.  They were released in late 2009, but I just performed a little web review of some of my favorite blogs, sites and the Twitter feeds of some of my favorites, and you would be surprised at how many offer no explanation or statement regarding their product reviews and testimonials.

To help understand The FTC regulations, they’ve issued the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Adve....”  This Guide is designed to help better understand what the FTC expects from every advertiser and endorser.

There are steps every smart product reviewer can take to keep from running afoul of the law.

In a nutshell, endorsements and testimonials for compensation of any kind should be communicated to your readers.

Who’s an Endorser? Do you offer your opinions, beliefs and findings about a particular product and you’re not the advertiser?  You could be considered an endorser.  If you review products that you receive from free from a company, it’s safe to say you’re an endorser.

For purposes of these regulations, those who provide endorsements are treated the same as those who provide testimonials.  It should be assumed that when the guidance discusses endorsements that it is also covering testimonials.

Just so we’re clear…

No pay, no freebies = No endorsement

If I happen to try a new cereal, and I share on my blog how much I love, love, love this new cereal that is a perfect blend of everything I love about Lucky Charms and Chex Mix, and no one sent me free boxes of this lovely cereal nor offered me any other freebies (coupons included) for my views, it is not an endorsement.

No endorsement = No disclosures

If I am not endorsing a product or providing a testimonial, then I have nothing that I need to disclose to my readers.

Compensation (freebies, discounts, pay) = Disclosure

When there is a material connection between an endorser and an advertiser that might materially affect the weight of the endorsement, both sides must fully disclose that connection.

Let’s say Company X offers me a lifetime supply of my favorite cleaning product and asks me to conduct a product review and post it on my blog.  Even if I’ve used this product my entire life, I must disclose that I received a lifetime supply of said product in connection with this product review.

Why?  No one likes to be deceived.  The fact that I’ve saved thousands of dollars on cleaning products (even if I would have provided a glowing review for free anyway) should be shared in the interest of adhering to the law and being a reputable product reviewer and blogger.

Keep Disclosures Straightforward.

Disclosure language doesn’t have to be lengthy and complex.  Just be honest with your readers and share with them what benefits you gleaned as a result of your review.

For instance, if I received a lifetime supply of cleaning products, I would merely offer the following disclosure at the top of my review:

“My review of this product is based on my experience as a lifetime user of product X.  However, X Company graciously provided me with free product as compensation for my review of said product.”   Sweet, simple and legally sound.

Next, we’ll address what to do to ensure that those testimonials you receive about your product and service are legal.

Here’s to your business success!

 

Shannon Harmon is an IL licensed attorney specializing in business law and an award winning entrepreneur and editor and lead content creator for iBusinessLegal.com a growing go-to resource for legal information geared towards empowering web-based entrepreneurs. 



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Comment by Shannon Harmon on July 12, 2011 at 3:05pm
Shimeka,

So glad it was helpful. Be sure to check-in weekly. We're adding helpful information all the time.
Comment by Shimeka Williams on July 12, 2011 at 2:34pm
Great information.  I have done some product reviews, none of which are endorsed.  I expect that this may change in the future, so this information comes in very handy.
Comment by Shannon Harmon on July 9, 2011 at 11:25am

Tamara,

Glad it helped you!  If you get a chance, subscribe to our newsletter and tell a fellow business owner.  We'll be sharing new information each week.  Thanks for reading.

 

Shannon

www.ibusinesslegal.com

 

Comment by Tamara Garrison-Thomas on July 9, 2011 at 10:46am

Eloquently said! Thank you for clearing up this misunderstanding. I didn't know you had to say that you received the product. I'll have to look out for that. Very informative.

 

Tamara Garrison-Thomas

www.garrisonprosperitysolutinos.com

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