Friday, 28 January 2011

OFT announces crackdown on product endorsement blogs

London - The UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has begun a crackdown on users of social networking website Twitter who endorse products and brands without clarifying whether they have been paid for their online remarks.

Enforcing the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs), the OFT said in a statement on 13 December: ‘Online advertising and marketing practices that do not disclose they include paid-for promotions are deceptive under [CPR] fair trading laws. This includes comments on blogs such as Twitter’.

The announcement follows a July 2010 OFT investigation into whether PR firm Handpicked Media (HM) had paid bloggers to write exclusively about the firm’s clients. “[The OFT] wanted to make an example of us”, said Krista Madden, of HM. “The public should be smart enough to realise when it is a genuine tweet. It will be hard to monitor [paid posts]. Celebrities have been given freebies, gifts and jollies for years without having to declare them.”

“Under the CPRs, [this] can be regarded as an unfair commercial practice”, said Oliver Bray, Partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. “Brands need to make clear when promotions have been paid for or there is a very real risk of enforcement action by the OFT.” 

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission demands that paid posts contain the words ‘ad’ or ‘spon’. This requirement does not exist in the UK. “The key here is transparency,” said Nick Johnson, Partner at Osborne Clarke. “The US short-form disclosures are an efficient way of achieving that.”

Published previously in E-Commerce L&P magazine, London 2010. Copyrights apply.