I have seen a few significant changes in blogging over the years, but none that may be quite as important or wide-ranging as the new FTC regulations, 16 CFR Part 255, concerning endorsements. Effective December 1, 2009, bloggers who endorse a product or service must disclose whether they have a "material connection" to the advertiser that might affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement. This means that bloggers that receive cash or any other payment, including free products, for their endorsement must disclose that connection. The new regulations contain a number of examples that illustrate the various situations that may constitute a "material connection," but none of them are particularly illuminating.
The new regulations also require advertisements that convey a consumer's experience with a product or service as typical when, in reality, it is not, to disclose what the typical results would be. Advertisers can no longer portray a result and disclaim it with fine print that says, "Results not typical." The rules for celebrity endorsements under Part 255 have also changed. Celebrities must disclose their connections with an advertiser and both parties can now be held liable for untruthful or misleading advertising. Celebrities also must disclose their relationships with advertisers when they promote products outside of traditional commercials or print advertising, such as on talk shows or in interviews.Finally, if an advertisement refers to a scientific study for support, the advertiser must disclose his or her relationship to the researcher or research agency.
There are several other changes in the law that must also be complied with, as well as several new examples to illustrate the application of the pre-existing rules that have been in effect since 1980. It is important that bloggers understand these rules and examples because they can be held liable for up to $11,000 per post for a violation. It is a changing blogging world out there, and it seems as if the law is starting to catch up.