As part of the new rules on the use of testimonials in advertising, The Federal Trade Commission in the US has decreed that anyone endorsing a product, including bloggers, should declare any compensation received. While these guidelines aren’t enforcable by law, they are intended to clarify matters for all involved, including the courts, should any lawsuits arise as a result of misguiding readers. On the surface, this sounds pretty harsh, but in fact, I think it will really help bloggers to recognise that what they say for cash may come back to haunt them. It also helps greatly to distinguish between those bloggers who already are open about how they’ve come to receive a product and those who are cagey. I’m hoping that anyone who reads my profile will recognise that most of the products reviewed on my blog are received free as part of my job as a beauty writer. I don’t make any bones about this at all. In fact, generally if I have actually bought something, that’s the big news!
I think this ruling…although basically unenforcable…will be enough of a wake up (any legalise tends to send a shiver of fear through the media world) for beauty companies and PR’s to realise that beauty blogging isn’t quite the exploitable new media that it previously may have seemed. For many new beauty bloggers, they’re simply writing about their passion in a forum where they have control, which is followed by others with similar interests. And, a big part of blogging is about being heard in a world where previously their opinion didn’t much matter. It can come as quite a shock to discover they are viewed by the media world as another avenue to get a brand noticed. With no experience in handling such relationships, it can cause untold upset, and in fact, already has.
There should be no issues in declaring an approach by a beauty or PR company; blog posts ‘sponsored by’ will become a common occurence in time. The problem lies more in emotions; feeling unable to post a negative review because the product was ‘free’, jealousy from other bloggers, the need for approval…there is a melting pot of discomfort out there. Anything that adds clarity to a very blurred situation is welcome in my book and taking open responsibility for what ends up on your blog and using sensible self-censorship is part and parcel of how good beauty blogging, in my view, should be done.