Shut Your Mouth If Your Experience Is Not Typical Enough


The Federal Trade Commission, which has already followed the late Interstate Commerce Commission into glaring uselessness and could safely be abolished like the ICC, published its new endorsement guidelines today.

Highlights include but are not limited to a requirement that advertisers provide equal time to people who oppose their products:

Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect. In contrast to the 1980 version of the Guides—which allowed advertisers to describe unusual results in a testimonial as long as they included a disclaimer such as "results not typical"—the revised Guides no longer contain this safe harbor.

So if a customer tells you, for example, "The people were nice, the product was good and I got my money's worth," you can't use that endorsement unless you provide fairness and balance to any detractor who had a bad experience with an employee or had hoped to haggle down the price. (If you've ever run a business you know which type of customer you are more likely to hear from.)

But while fairness and balance apply to civilians, they don't seem to apply to either the establishment media or major-party politicians:

These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other "word-of-mouth" marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

This blogger rule does not apply to journalists. Just in the opinion section of los Tiempos de Los Angeles, there is a table set aside for CDs, goodybags, DVDs, stuffed animals, samples and other free swag received from flacks and manufacturers. To the best of my knowledge Tim Rutten keeps parked outside his office a four-wheeled pallet stacked tit-high with review copies that don't fit in his office. That's just opinion. In the entertainment sections the swag is orders of magnitude more varied and valuable. Yet I don't remember any reviewer in any print publication ever disclosing that the record, the movie, the meal or the vacation was free.

Thank Satan we do not subject newspapers to this asinine level of scrutiny and disclosure. Praise Cybele that Sen. Obama did not have to include statistics provided by Dick Morris during his campaign commercials. Why does the Federal Trade Commission exist?

You'll definitely want to read the whole brief, which also gives "celebrities" a smack across their sculpted noses. Don't skip the boilerplate either, which explains that these are not new laws, just new interpretations of law by unelected officials serving the executive branch.

But don't have your mind clouded by hatred of this or any other executive branch. In fact, all four sitting FTC commissioners were appointed by the previous executive. Getting different commissioners seated won't help. Fight the real enemy. Abolish the Federal Trade Commission.