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Jun 10, 2010

Absolut Issue for FTC?

The Atlantic Yards Report blog reveals a e-mail from the advertising/p.r. agency for Absolut vodka, Ketchum, inviting Brooklyn bloggers to participate in the Absolut-sponsored "Fifth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest."  By participating in this "viral, underground effort," the e-mail states, bloggers "will receive exclusive access to product, information and events before anyone else. In addition, we will ensure that your name and your site are a very special part of all the big news."

There's apparently no mention in the e-mail of Federal Trade Commission guidelines requiring bloggers to disclose that they will receive products or services from Absolut for promoting the event. Under the guidelines, which can be the basis for FTC enforcement proceedings, and FTC's policies implementing them, this could mean trouble for the advertiser and its ad agency, and possibly for the bloggers who participated.

 The FTC guidelines -- which I explain in detail here -- are complex, but fundamentally they require bloggers (and those who post on other social media, such as Twitter and Facebook) who receive a free or discounted product or service in exchange for writing a review to disclose the freebie or face the possibility of an FTC enforcement action.

After adopting the guidelines, the FTC assured bloggers and social media contributors that it was not likely to pursue them for not following the disclosure guidelines.  Instead, the Commission said that it would target the advertisers who offer the freebies (PRNewser; Dow Jones Newswires).  
 
The FTC recently completed its first investigation under the rules, of a program by Ann Taylor's Loft division that offered gifts to bloggers who attended an "exclusive blogger preview" of the chain's summer 2010 line.  In the end, the agency announced that it was taking no action in the matter, after Loft adopted a written policy that it "will not issue any gift to any blogger without first telling the blogger that the blogger must disclose the gift in his or her blog."

There have been a few other publicized instances of perks or benefits to bloggers in return for coverage since the guides went into effect, which the FTC has not acted on. We'll see if the agency takes any absolute action on this latest case.

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