New York Times Urges Truth in Online, Offline Advertising


Pointing out that marketing to consumer-generated (i.e., blogs) and social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace but not, as yet, Twitter) is expected to grow 20 percent in 2009, up from $1.01 billion in 2008 (which had increased 25% from 2007), the New York Times believes that “a lot of it is paid advertising masquerading as bona fide endorsements by celebrities, well-known bloggers and even ordinary people — honest comment, free from pecuniary considerations.”

According to the Times, “In 1968, an F.T.C. advisory demanded that advertorials disclose that they were advertising, not editorial…The rules offline should clearly apply online. This is a matter of principle, not medium, and the new rules are not an excessive burden.”

I certainly agree with that.

The Times also urges the FTC to “focus enforcement on the advertising companies,” not the bloggers.”

The Times also feels that “advertisers are the drivers of this new trend. The onus should be on them to ensure that blogs pitching their stuff warn readers about the commercial motivation of the endorsements.”

As a blogger, I’m not sure I totally agree with that last point. I have urged clients to work with credible bloggers, who disclose potential conflicts of interest. But as a PR executive, I know we have little control over bloggers, and would not want to be held responsible for them. That said, we’re just providing information or trial software for reviews. We’re not engaging in some of the problem issues that the Times rightly cites (such false testimonials).

It’s not clear from the Times’ editorial whether its editorial board understands how bloggers work.

At the same time, we do provide trial software for product reviews to print reporters. I think there needs to be a disclosure page for tech reviewers to let everyone know their policies. The Journal has a code of conduct that’s easily found, but you can check it out here. Kara Swisher, a former Journal reporter who now works for All Things D, posts her ethics policies here. And Walt Mossberg posts his ethics policy below his bio here.

I think more online and offline reporters and bloggers should post codes of conduct. Now, I don’t review or endorse products here, but I have posted in my bio that if I do mention clients, I will always disclose that fact. And I do so here and on Twitter.

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