Twitter and the OFT

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Seriously I’m the same we all are aren’t we can’t wait to drive our new ‘rangeys’ as us in the know call them.

“Lisa…..? Wake up you’ve got a blog post to write!”

Back to reality, my previous reference comes from UK fashion designers Henry Holland’s Twitter as he may or may not have been though probably was given a Range Rover to drive and tweet about. Which when talking to the Mail on Sunday Range Rover confirmed that this was the case.

“We enlisted the help of a number of people with high profiles on Twitter. They get the loan of a vehicle which they can use, drive around and take pictures of. Under the terms of the deal they tweet. That’s the idea. They tweet about the car (Guardian, 2011).”

Which strangely a second spokesperson then denied? This sudden reluctance to tell all may have something to do with the recent OFT guidelines which focused on the use of paid bloggers exclaiming the virtues of certain products and on celebrities being paid massive amounts to mention specific products on their Twitter accounts. Some of the numbers being bandied around are extraordinary;

“A year ago, celebrities were wary about their reputation, about selling out, but when they saw how easy it was to earn up to $5,000 a tweet, they flocked on board (Guardian, 2011).”

$5000! Per Tweet! I’m sure a great many of us would be ecstatic to accept this if we were in such a position, $5000 for an endorsement which you know won’t be any more than 140 characters, easy money in the simplest form.

Last July the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) took action against a commercial blogging network, OFT list the indictment for the action was:

“The engaging and remuneration of individuals in respect of online promotional activity in circumstances where it is not clearly identifiable to consumers that the promotion has been paid for (OFT, 2010).”

In Layman’s terms their bloggers were being paid by the commercial blogging network to write favorably about their clients and not clearly stating that the post had been paid for and therefore opinions could have been swayed. This was found to be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The Federal Trade Commission already had guidelines in place which stated bloggers had to display clearly when a post was being sponsored or if products being reviewed had been given to them by a PR company, until now the UK did not have such guidelines.

While I was researching this topic on the FTC website I came across an interesting point where it was stated that:

“Isn’t it common knowledge that some bloggers are paid to tout products or that if you click a link on my site to buy a product, I’ll get a commission for that sale (FTC)?”

I thought this was a particularly pertinent point because I think for someone that would be affected by these guidelines or who works in marketing both on and offline, then I believe this is true. Indeed when I first heard about this story I thought the exact same thing, yeah everyone knows that. Then I considered it and I thought that the ones who believe it to be common knowledge are a small minority compared to the amount of people use the internet. It is common knowledge that people use the internet these days to research products, to seek out opinions and to make sure that the purchase they are making is the best one for them in terms of quality and value.

Sure there can be a lot of distrust on the internet and without any real laws governing it you do have to be aware of that when you are taking a piece of information at face value. Something does have to be done to keep the trust that is there already, consumers should be able to use the internet to easily find impartial consumer advice. It will be far more beneficial for consumers in the long run in terms of consumer power and fairness amongst companies.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with sponsored posts and celebrity endorsement the latter has been around and effective for decades. From a marketing point of view I see it as a valid and efficient method of promotion. From a consumer point of view I feel that the OFT is correct in introducing guidelines where all sponsored posts or tweets should be clearly marked as such. This is also not to insinuate that all bloggers involved eyes turn to dollar signs whenever they are presented with such an opportunity as this is not the case. Sponsored posts can still be impartial, and the majority of bloggers can be relied upon to give clear and honest opinions.

The introduction of these guidelines presents consumers with a bit more information to allow them to make an informed decision and to keep a common standard amongst endorsers. The OFT advise that:

“endorsers must prominently disclose, in a manner unavoidable to the average consumer, that the promotion has been paid for or otherwise remunerated.”

This applies for Twitter and all online platforms where sponsorship by the manufacturing company or ‘middle man’ may be displayed e.g. Facebook and YouTube.

What do you think about the OFT’s involvement? Do you think it is justified or do you think it is just further restrictions being imposed on your use of the internet?

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