Should you pay bloggers for product reviews?

It certainly isn’t illegal to pay a blogger to endorse a new product, but you should be aware of the regulations that come along with a sponsorship.


Is a new product in the works for your company or client? Then you’re probably preparing a blogger relations campaign to get it in front of that perfect niche audience. Before you finalize that plan, make sure you understand what’s legal and illegal when it comes to blogger reviews—before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) comes knocking on your company’s door. Is pay-to-play legal when securing blogger reviews? Paying bloggers to write product reviews is not illegal, but a paid product review is considered an endorsement and is, therefore, regulated by the U.S. government. Accordingly, bloggers and promoters of products must play by the rules. Specifically, bloggers must disclose any payment or free products received in connection with products they review, and they must reveal any material connection that could affect credibility of the endorsement, as required by the Code of Federal Regulations. It’s the PR pro’s job to stay on top of disclosures to make sure reviews don’t put the company at legal risk. Full, honest disclosure is the best blogger relations policy. Paid online reviews went unregulated by the FTC until late 2009, when the agency announced revisions to bring the regulations of online endorsements in line with those existing for more traditional forms of advertising. Though the FTC guidelines note that blogger compensation issues are decided on a case-by-case basis, the FTC says monetary payment or the receipt of products in exchange for a review are permissible only with proper disclosures. The type of compensation—be it money or product—makes no difference. If a blogger does not make it explicitly clear that he or she was compensated, both the blogger and the PR pro are at risk of liability for false or misleading advertisements under the code or under federal trademark legislation. Like bloggers, celebrities must also fully disclose when making endorsements outside of traditional advertisements. For example, a celebrity tweeting about a product or service should disclose whether they are endorsing it, unless it’s inherently obvious. Still don’t want to disclose? Consider the costly consequences. If any blogger or PR pro is skeptical about the enforcement of these and similar regulations, they need to look no further than last fall: The New York attorney general’s office fined 19 companies a combined $350,000 for paying for fake reviews, according to The New York Times. Many bloggers have become more sophisticated online when it comes to churning out misleading reviews, but regulators have caught on, and they’re not as easily fooled as some consumers. When in doubt, a blogger—or the company pushing a product or service—should disclose any material connection, even where the compensation may seem insignificant, and even if the PR pro is not controlling the content of the review. As it was made clear in New York, knowingly forgoing disclosure could result in greater costs—both monetarily and reputation-wise—than any benefits received in exchange for a review. Whitney Gibson is an attorney in the Cincinnati office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, where he leads its internet defamation group. For additional information, contact Whitney at 855.542.9192 or by email, and also read more about the practice on its blog.

COMMENT

PR Daily News Feed

Sign up to receive the latest articles from PR Daily directly in your inbox.