Sorry #SponCon fam, but those vague #partner and #collab hashtags are not going to cut it.
With the rise of sponsored content across multiple digital platforms, the FTC aims for transparency.
Five years ago, blogger swag was something that we all knew existed but never really discussed publicly. Then, the Federal Trade Commission got involved, and suddenly every online outlet—no matter how big or small—was required to make a full disclosure every time they wrote about something that was given to them as a gift. (Or, as payment in the form of coverage.) For a while, it was fun to call out bloggers who were obviously (or not so obviously) shilling for brands without following the FTC rules. But soon enough, the community got comfortable disclosing these brand alliances, even showing them off. In 2013, brand partnerships can make or break a blogger's success. In a "you've got to fake to make it" fashion, many newer, up-and-coming bloggers are allegedly claiming items they've bought were gifts from brands. Apparently, this act is far more common than imagined.
Macy's, Amazon, Sears, and Leon Max, were doing their part to save the planet when, a few years ago, they made an effort to sell products labeled as being made with more eco-friendly bamboo textiles--except that, as far as the Federal Trade Commission is concerned, they weren't made of bamboo at all. They were made of rayon.
Once the provenance of earnest fashion fans on the fringes of the industry, blogs have evolved into legitimate media sources and, more importantly, big moneymakers. Just look at today's WWD story highlighting "hot fashion bloggers" like Bryan Boy and Susie Bubble. The feature goes on to detail how each "hot fashion blogger" makes their money, how many monthly page views their sites get, and presents an important question: "Bloggers sitting front row have become commonplace—as have partnerships with leading brands and fashion houses that often blur the nature of what they do: Reportage and criticism or marketing and promotion?" Whether it's by partnering with brands, styling shoots, receiving payment (or free product) for writing posts or getting commission on the sale of items they post about, some bloggers are seriously cashing in on their influence. Of course, there's nothing wrong with making money. These bloggers work hard, are dedicated to their followers and add a unique voice to the fashion dialogue. "Bloggers produce original content; they have a unique talent [whether it be photographing, styling, writing] and it's obvious," says Karen Robinovitz, co-founder and chief creative office of Digital Brand Architects, an agency that reps "top tier bloggers." "Why would you, for instance, hire any stylist when you can hire just as talented a stylist but one that also has 75,000 followers?" But as blogs make the transition from personal style diary to profit-turning businesses, some readers have begun to feel that original and unbiased content, once the keystone of what made blogs so relevant, has taken a hit.
This weekend I attended the 2010 BlogHer conference here in NYC. BlogHer was founded in 2005 by Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins with the mission “to create opportunities for women who blog to gain exposure, education, community and economic empowerment." BlogHer provides support to bloggers via an online presence and a publishing network where over 2,500 blogs appear. Plus, they throw a kick-ass conference every year. There were sessions offered for virtually every interest, and naturally I opted to attend the inaugural BlogHer fashion blogging session. It was moderated by Susan Wagner, who edits the style section on BlogHer.com. Panelists Jennine Jacob (The Coveted, Eat Sleep Denim, & founder of Independent Fashion Bloggers), Sarah Conley (Style IT), and Nichelle Pace (StyleMom) answered questions and offered their opinions in what became a lively and spirited discussion.
You might remember a few months ago when we received correspondence from Ann Taylor LOFT, offering the chance to win a $500 gift card if we blogged about an event within 24-hours of its occurrence. Ann Taylor apologized for the kerfuffle and made peace with the FTC. But it looks like some retailers didn't learn from LOFT's mistake. A fellow blogger sent us this strange email from someone claiming to represent a very prominent fashion e-commerce site:
Last fall, the FTC promised to start regulating the blossoming relationships between companies and bloggers. We wrote about it extensively on Fashion