If there were any doubt about the Federal Trade Commission making good on its promise to crack down on blogger freebies, it has been laid to rest this week. The group just completed an investigation of retailer Ann Taylor. They won't be asking for any reparations from the company, but that's only because Ann Taylor cooperated and promised not to offer any more $10 gift cards to bloggers.

For bloggers thinking they would remain outside the FTC's purview, this case could serve as a warning that all sponsorships are under scrutiny.

Earlier this year, Ann Taylor held a preview event for its new clothing line. The company invited bloggers and promised them gift cards valued between $10 and $500, after sending the retailer the posts they were planning to publish. The effort came in direct violation of the FTC's new disclosure rules.

In February, I wrote that Ann Taylor might be getting a visit from the FTC. Well, now they've come and gone. According to a letter from Mary Engle, the FTC's associate director of advertising practices, to Ann Taylor's legal representatives:

"We were concerned that bloggers who attended a preview on January 26, 2010 failed to disclose that they received gifts for posting blog content about that event."

Apparently, the FTC thinks that it is Ann Taylor's responsibility to make sure that each and every blogger disclosed the gift cards. However, the organization will not be fining Ann Taylor. According to AdAge:

"The FTC said it decided not to take action against Ann Taylor, because, according to the company, the January preview was the first and, to date, only such event. Also, only a small number of bloggers posted content about the preview and several of those disclosed the gifts. A sign posted at the event directed bloggers to disclose the gifts, though the FTC says it's not clear how many bloggers saw the sign."

The FTC's new guidlines state that bloggers and brands that fail to disclose sponsorships could be fined up to $11,000. And the main thing that appears to have kept Ann Taylor in the clear was the company's ability to cooperate with the investigation:

"LOFT adopted a written policy . . . stating that LOFT will not issue any gift to any blogger without first telling the blogger that the blogger must disclose the gift in his or her blog."

This is especially interesting in light of comments that FTC officials made earlier this year.

In January, Len Gordon, the FTC's Northeast director, said that bloggers over reacted to the new rules, and that violations would be considered according to their severity:

"It's one thing if it's a packet of soap, another if it's an automobile. It's going to depend on the particulars."

But nowhere here does it look like the actual payment in question was significant. And yet, Ann Taylor avoided paying fines because it promised not to do it again. Chances are, we'll be seeing some fines being handed out soon for similar violations.

Meghan Keane

Published 28 April, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (5)


selina howells

Makes sense in the context of consumers having spent too much and brought the Western world to the brink of bankruptcy.

about 8 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Welcome to 'regulation' in the US. Also known as promotion. USDA? Promotes the food industry -- at all costs to anyone who consumes food. Err... I mean "food." The FTC? Promotes the interest of business -- at all cost to the consumer that it 'protects.' This has been going on for many years when it comes to the Web. Recall the miniature fines issued to ValueClick and the handful of spammer and adware outfits. A few million dollars. The 'regulators' have no incentive to regulate; only to promote.

about 8 years ago



I am actually all for this. I think it's really scummy that a lot of fashion bloggers basically go around demanding free gifts from brands and only write about brands willing to gift things to them. It's a pay for play system and readers should be made aware that the blogger's review is based on what is essentially a bribe.

about 8 years ago

Roland Crepeau

Roland Crepeau, e-reputation product owner at Vanksen

FTC is right in the idea... but why focusing on small blogs and not enforcingat all the same rules on the enormous amount of free stuff numerous journalists receive and never ever disclose (free samples, great trip, special prices,...). Blogs are still in their infancy and FTC is super tough with them when it is not at all with media that have been there for years...

about 8 years ago


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almost 7 years ago

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