Late last week, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (“ICPEN”) published three sets of guidelines covering online reviews and endorsements. Why does this matter?

ICPEN is an informal network of consumer protection law enforcement authorities from over 60 jurisdictions, including the US, the UK, and the EU, where authorities share information and seek to combat consumer problems that arise in cross-border transactions involving goods and services. Simply put, the guidelines offer recommended dos and don’ts for review sites, advertisers and influencers to help keep everyone out of trouble with the authorities in member countries. And speaking of the “authorities” … Stacy Feurer, Assistant Director for International Consumer Protection at the FTC Office of International Affairs wrote a blog post on the FTC’s Business Center Blog praising the guidelines for their examples and practical advice in the area of truth-in-advertising.

For Advertisers and Influencers

The recommendations for brands and digital influencers are nothing new if you’ve been keeping up with the FTC’s guidance on endorsements, testimonials and native advertising:

  • Disclose Paid Posts – Blog posts, social media posts, sponsored stories, product placements or even just a link that appears in a feed as a result of a payment or other form of compensation (e.g. free stuff) should be prominently and clearly disclosed.
  • Influencers and Brands Should be Open and Honest about Their Commercial Relationships – The guidelines recommend that even if a celebrity is not being paid to post a particular tweet, it may be appropriate to disclose the celebrity’s status as the brand’s ambassador or any other financial connection to the brand.
  • Reviews Should be Genuine – Influencers shouldn’t offer up opinions about products they haven’t tried and brands shouldn’t ask them to do so. Any opinions offered should be honestly provided.
  • Don’t Do Business with Those Not Willing to Follow the Rules – Brands and influencers have a responsibility to consumers to be truthful. Don’t ruin your reputation (or worse) by doing business with others that require you to refrain from using proper disclosures. Advertisers and influencers should include references to the disclosure requirements in their contracts with each other.

Some Additional Points for Advertisers:

  • Give Clear Instructions to Intermediaries and Publishers – Don’t blindly trust that your advertising agency, PR agency, bloggers, influencers or the online publications with which you do business will have it covered. Brands should take responsibility for ensuring that any necessary disclosures are clear and prominent.
  • Have Your Own Policy and Enforce It – Advertisers should review training manuals, contracts and internal policies to ensure they cover truth-in-advertising principles. Periodic monitoring of your policies is also important.