While Framel passed on the deal, other, less scrupulous (or uninformed) bloggers may not. And, as it turns out, such deals, if left undisclosed, are in direct violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines which state: “The post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.” However, even the FTC seems fuzzy on the issue, saying, “decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis.” In an email, Betsy Lordan, a rep for the FTC, added that, “The [FTC]’s revised Guides governing endorsements and testimonials are guidance. They are not rules or regulations, so there are no monetary penalties, or penalties of any kind, associated with them.”
In other words, there is not necessarily any incentive for bloggers to disclose whether they are receiving free product, commission on a sale (which one blogger admitted to doing undisclosed), or even payment for featuring a product. Some of them might be content on cashing in on their audience’s attention, while others might just be ignorant of the proper practices, and the repercussions of their actions. Keep in mind that, unlike in the print and traditional media world, many of these bloggers did not study journalism, or have work experience and they don’t have any corporate guidelines to follow. (WWD pointed out that “Besides her blog, [Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast] has never had a job that’s lasted more than a month.”) Which is probably why the FTC says, “We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to…If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be on advertisers, not endorsers.”
But penalties and rule-breaking aside, how has the monetization of blogs affected the quality of their editorial content? “If it’s done properly [integrating ad content] won’t ever impact editorial integrity,” said Robinovitz, who reps Framel as well as Sea of Shoes’ Jane Aldridge and Jamie Beck of From Me To You. “Every single blogger that we work with, before we even discuss what the opportunity is, we do a litmus test for their passion for the brand and for the content because if it’s not something they would have done organically to me its not worth doing just for money. We tell our clients that just because they love a brand, doesn’t mean they have to do that exact opportunity if that opportunity doesn’t feel like the best fit. You cant rush into things, you have to be very careful. I think everyone can tell when something is inauthentic.”
There was one thing everyone we spoke to agreed upon: Blogs, once hailed as the democratic voice of fashion, have become brands themselves, questions about their authenticity and originality have rightfully been asked. How these questions will be answered is, for now, up to bloggers. What sort of guidelines do you think they should follow?