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10/22/2009 The FTC, the IAB, and Me

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced guidelines on blogging and testimonials. Basically, the FTC is trying to get ahead of the curve by setting guidelines on product endorsements and testimonials. They want bloggers to come clean if they've received free products in exchange for reviews. They believe, correctly for the most part, that the simple act of receiving something for free might influence what people write. The part that has everyone up in arms is that the FTC reserves the right to prosecute those who don't follow the rules.

Personally, I have no problem with honesty guidelines. They're very easy to follow. I believe that online should be BETTER than other media: more open, transparent and honest. The FTC guidelines are a challenge to us online marketers to walk the walk. I think we should take the challenge to do more than the FTC asks.

Of all the reactions online against the FTC guidelines (and there were a ton), the one that got the most play was from Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). What most irritated Mr. Rothenberg was that the FTC had put more stringent guidelines on bloggers than it has on most other media. "Unfair," cried Rothenberg! "Beware Big Brother," wailed the head of the IAB on a site with direct links to IAB guidelines!

Why, I thought, would an organization whose main output consists of online advertising guidelines be so opposed to blogger guidelines? Is it because IAB can't really prosecute anyone itself?

So I dug in a little and found:

The IAB's number one objective is to "fend off adverse legislation and regulation." That's right, it's not to make online advertising better, it's to keep the Feds out. It sounds like something straight from Wall Street. Just let the market take care of itself, and everything will be fine.

It's last objective is to create a force to "balance power of other media..." which is kind of funny, since the IAB's executive board consists of people from the NYT, CBS, NBC, and Conde Nast. Foxes in the hen house (where is FOX, by the way?).

My real bone with the IAB is that they seem to think that the real problem with online advertising is sizing standards. The real problem with online advertising is that it stinks, from a creative and interactive standpoint. It doesn't matter if it's 30K or 40K, if its 336x280 or 120x160. It's what's inside that counts.

That's why the FTC guidelines are a good thing. They may have got it wrong in Old Media, but they're trying to get it right in New Media. It's not the format of the blog; it's how we show up on them. The FTC says, "be honest, or else." I say "there's nothing easier." Too bad the IAB has a problem with that.

And it got me thinking: What if the IAB ran things instead of the Fed?

Stay Tuned.


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