The power of blogs, Twitter and Facebook to drive marketing strategies and influence purchasing decisions is undeniable; but, companies need to remember that legally the same rules apply online as offline.
While uptake from some of the giants dominating the industry may have been slower than expected, the ability of new tools, such as facebook, twitter and blogs, to reach out to consumers and create a community around a product or brand, has certainly not gone unnoticed.
Indeed, a recent survey highlighted how blogs may have more influence on beauty purchases than the more traditional magazine medium (albeit among a community of very active blog users), and countless pieces of research attest to the power of advice from relative strangers via sites such as YouTube and Twitter on product purchases.
However, companies embracing these new tools need to remember that although novel, they do remain subject to the same laws as more traditional media, particularly regarding the distinction between paid for content, product endorsements and independent material.
Late last year, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) decided to underline this point, stating that paid for content of any kind needs to be flagged up as such, even on websites, blogs and microblogs such as Twitter.
One recent example in the beauty world involved actress Liz Hurley and a number of tweets describing some ‘divine’ Estée Lauder products.
There was no reference in Hurley’s tweets, which recommended using a number of Estée Lauder products, of her long running contract with the company, suggesting that consumers may not have been aware of the money that will surely have changed hands in her role as brand ambassador.
In a later tweet responding to the media attention that her tweets had attracted, Hurley said:“It’s hardly a secret that I work for Estée Lauder – I’ve modelled for them for 17 years. Love telling u about their products – they’re the best”.
While making it clear that companies must clarify the promotional nature of a tweet or blog, the OFT did not specify how this should be done, and were unwilling to comment on any action that might be taken against companies who were found to be flouting this ruling.
However, Twitter itself does have a tool that allows a message to be flagged up as promotional, which the OFT said could be one way of making sure consumers were aware of the nature of the tweet.
Blogs are not unregulated
Similarly, promotional material on other blogging sites is subject to the same rules: if it has been paid for by money, or in kind, this needs to be disclosed.
Undoubtedly, targeting bloggers evidently presents different challenges to attracting the attention of magazine editors, for a start their sites may be more targeted requiring a different type of communication, but the inherent distinction between advertorial and editorial still needs to be made.
New tools should not be an excuse to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes.