“May you live in interesting times,” goes the old Chinese curse, which, ironically, is actually not Chinese at all, but does describe the current state of the communications industry.
As an elder statesman of PR, I’ve seen big changes since starting in the industry in the early 2000’s. Mainstream media has lost its status as the primary news source for most us. We now rely on citizen journalists, bloggers, social media and a constant stream of videos and photos to gather the news of the day.
One feature of this changing media landscape is the increasingly blurred lines between paid and earned media. It’s no small issue – it’s a very big one to the Federal Trade Commission, which recently questioned Lord & Taylor’s spring blogger campaign.
The FTC suggests that the retailer didn’t “disclose its relationships with influencers” when partnered with 50 fashion bloggers to promote the same dress. According to the FTC, some of the influencers marked the posts as sponsored content, while others did not. This is a problem for L&T, which might face a $250,000 fine, and, more importantly, a problem for consumers, who may or may not know they are the target of an advertisement, not, as they expected, a neutral third-party endorsement.
We don’t yet have the answers to the problem. Neither do other experts, as noted in AdWeek, which quoted Bradley Shear, a Bethesda, Maryland-based attorney who specializes in social media, privacy law and technology. In the article Shear notes: “There’s no silver bullet.”
But we continue to look for the path through these interesting times, and will encourage our clients to follow Shear’s advice: “Transparency really is the key in all this. As long as the brand and the marketing agencies are fully truthful, then the FTC is not going to come back and say this is unfair and deceptive.”