The FTC took a bold step into cyberspace yesterday when it announced new rules requiring that celebrity bloggers disclose any and all endorsement relationships they have to products or services they blog/post about. The implications of this decision are potentially extremely broad.
It seems that whenever a new rule like this is enacted, governing bodies like the FTC choose a few high profile individuals or situations to demonstrate their commitment to the rule. If that is the case with this ruling, celebrity Tweeters should be extremely cautions about any commerce related messages in their posts. There’s no way the FTC can thoroughly police the celebrity blogosphere, so I imagine they’ll be keeping a closer eye on the Ashton Kutcher’s of the world. I think the implications are especially applicable to the world of sports, where icons are frequently engaged with sponsors on endorsement activities.
Athletes are effectively using digital channels to directly engage with their fans. It isn’t uncommon for athletes such as Yao Ming (full disclosure: Yao is a BDA client) and Shaq to have as many as 1 million followers on their Facebook or Twitter pages. When I was a kid, I sent 10 bucks to the Terry Bradshaw fan club and received a fake autograph 8X10 and a membership card. Today, fans are engaging directly with their favorite athletes on a daily basis. And because those athletes represent brands, they are able to use their digital channels to promote their sponsors. Moving forward, athlete and their representatives will have to figure out what “full disclosure” means and how to implement it. It’s especially hard to imagine “full disclosure” in the context of a 140 character-limited Tweet. If we need to add “Steve Nash is a paid spokesman of Vitamin Water” to his Tweets, that eats up almost 1/3 of the available Tweet space!
It is amazing to me that in a day and age when Viagra and its competitors are allowed to mention “erectile disfunction” and “erections lasting longer than 8 hours” in their commercials, that the FTC is worried about celebrities and athletes disclosing endorsement relationships. The public is pretty damn savvy these days, and my guess is they can figure out for themselves that Danika Patrick is paid by Go Daddy. But explaining to my 8-year old son what ED is in the middle of a Steelers game? Now that’s something I think the FTC should be worried about.