The Federal Trade Commission made a somewhat obscure but significant ruling recently regarding paid promotions of a brand, in this case, on Pinterest, which should be a victory for consumers.
Cole Haan (a fashion retailer) ran a contest encouraging users to post with the hashtag #WanderingSole, which had a potential payoff of $1,000. The FTC’s ruling was tied to the fact that the hashtag didn’t itself wasn’t obvious that it was related to a brand promotion, nor were the posters of the images asked to label their post as part of a contest.
This is one of the challenges of many companies, not just Cole Haan, on how to be hip and relevant without being deceptive. It was a great way to engage their fans, but without some sort of way to recognize it for “crowdsourced” advertising, it fell a bit short.
While not directly related, this case struck me because of the ambiguous nature of the campaign. If I take a step back it and think about online reviews, or other consumer feedback, one of my concerns has always been fake reviews. While most of my purchases are less than $100 online, nothing makes me more bitter than getting something online that has great reviews, only to find out that some people were lying, as what I received was pretty much junk. Just because it only cost me $15, doesn’t mean I’m happy about being deceived.
As an avid user of online shopping, I have always been on the lookout to spot fake reviews, but it is getting harder to find them. The usual suspects are when there is only 4-5 reviews, with huge gaps between 1 and 5 stars, or the same post on multiple websites (also possible since Amazon enables pulling of content from their site), or reviews that just sound too good to be true.
I think it is a great that the FTC is fighting back, at least around the edges, to ensure that consumers are aware of paid advertising, vs. organic sharing of favorite pictures, products, or ideas.