Even “Industry Experts” Get it Wrong Sometimes

By Matt Van Hoven 

Anyone who has listened to Bob Knorpp’s BeanCast has been impressed by the guests, the high production quality and the timely subject matter. But even with the likes of Ken Wheaton, Scott Monty, Greg Verdino and Joseph Jaffe making appearances, you’re bound to have mistakes. The latest episode missed the boat regarding FTC regulations pertaining to blogger endorsements.

Episode 74 hosted a number of respected industry parishioners including Alan Wolk, Åsk Wäppling of Adland, AdAge Features/Blogs Editor Ken Wheaton and John Wall.


Wappling, Wolk and Wall are mostly excused from not knowing the ins and outs of the FTC regs: they’re not in the business of knowing this stuff. But Wheaton went on about them (AdAge has written a number of stories on the subject), and Knorpp prodded, specifically about the fines bloggers face and the audacity of the FTC to set up such regulations for bloggers while turning a blind eye to traditional media that are guilty of the same.

We agree there, and with the conversation in general. But, as they say, the devel is in the minutiae.

Knorpp: “I read a couple of the pieces in AdAge that talked about this both pro and con and that point stuck out to me; this is not applicable to old media. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules in place that govern payola etc., in traditional media. But these rules about $11,000 per incident only applies to people online.”

Reponds Wheaton: “Look at Oprah’s talk show. She gives away cars and millions of dollars worth of stuff and doesn’t necessarily disclose anything.”

Wappling: “Doesn’t it say it in the end credits?”

Wheaton: “It might, but you know, it’s like…that’s the other thing. That, you know, rolling those end credits in two point type at the of a TV show is a lot different than every blog post.”

True, it is different. But what Wheaton and Knorpp missed in all those AdAge posts was the reality of the FTC’s regulations. We reported them here last week (thanks to PRNewser), before this episode of the BeanCast was taped.

FTC assistant director Richard Cleland: “The root problem here is that reports that there is a monetary penalty for violating these guidelines is untrue. The FTC does not have the authority to impose a fine for a violation to the FTC act,” says Cleland who heads the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “There is a provision that allows for a proceeding in federal court that allows for imposing of a monetary penalty for violation of trade regulation laws. The guidelines are not trade regulation laws.”

He goes on: “We have never brought a case against a consumer endorser and we’ve never brought a case against somebody simply for failure to disclose a material connection,” he said. “Where we have brought cases, there are other issues involved, not only failing to disclose a material connection but also making other misrepresentations about a product, a serious product like a health product or something like that. We have brought those cases but not against the consumer endorser, we have brought those cases against the advertiser that was behind it. If people think that the FTC is going to issue them a citation for $11,000 because they failed to disclose that they got a free box of Pampers, that’s not true. That’s not going to happen today, not ever.”

So right there, the crux of the episode’s conversation is beat &#151 all with some quotes from the FTC. Yet people will listen to the BeanCast, long after the BS about bloggers being liable has been put to bed, and demonize (to the extent that’s possible) the FTC for something it’s not guilty of.

Screw-ups on this level, however minute, are worth pointing out &#151 especially when you consider Knorpp’s admission that he got his info from AdAge (a major advertising publication) and that Wheaton (who we don’t know personally but whose writing is part of our subconscious after perusing hundreds of AdAge articles, many of which were his) is an editor there, well the weight bears down a bit more.

Hey, we get it wrong too, but it’ll be a long time before anyone important considers us experts.

More:A Few *Correct* Things You Should Know About the FTC Guidelines