I was invited in to speak to the guys at The Competition and Markets Authority last week. The topic was online reviews and endorsements in the UK – including endorsements made by bloggers – I was asked what I felt was right/wrong and what should be done to change things.
It’s a subject that is very important to me and our business.
I have long called for reviews to carry some form of guarantee attached to them which proves they are real.
When we link companies and bloggers we insist that the blogger has an actual product to review. I feel that any review written on the web should be written based on actual experience. We’ve worked with over 250 companies and have a database of 1.5m bloggers, we have never deviated from this policy on any campaign. We have been asked many times (often by large agencies working for corporates) if we can get bloggers to simply ‘put up a few words’ and not label their post as ‘sponsored’ – we have turned away some very lucrative offers as we simply do not agree.
Talking about blog disclosure, the whole labelling of blog posts as sponsored is quite murky, we always tell bloggers to label the post as sponsored as they are receiving goods from our clients (no payment just product). We thought this was the rule. We have just found out the actual rule is (Q&A with the Committee of Advertising Practice :-
Q: You state in your guidelines that “It’s perfectly legitimate for a blogger to accept payment in return for promoting something in their blog. Moreover, the rules don’t prohibit PR companies sending free gifts or samples to bloggers in the hope of receiving a positive review.” Do both these situations require disclosure?
A: The first would require disclosure if, as implied in the question, the content of the blog is effectively controlled by the advertiser. The second does not require disclosure because this kind of activity is not covered by the Code.
So, if we don’t pay the blogger, and they simply get a product to review, they do not need to disclose. And the reason, because it is pretty obvious the review will be based on actual usage. This is not good enough I my mind. I think there needs to be a guarantee.
So let’s go back to the guarantee. My very early thoughts on this (and they are very early thoughts) are that a company facilitating reviews should be part of a wider governing body. Perhaps a paid for entity or a government agency, something of authority. Companies that facilitate reviews, like Fuelmywebsite or PR Agencies, could be awarded a digital badge once a certain amount of due diligence has taken place and membership has been paid for. This digital badge would be linked to a website with a registration number and details of the company displaying it. Bloggers or reviewers working with these companies would get a unique digital badge to attach to the review. The digital badge would display a serial number which if clicked and checked would show who should be writing the review and about what product. If the two do not match up, the consumer would be able to spot a faker. This would also mean every single review without a badge would be taken at face value and not guaranteed as real. Forcing, perhaps, a world of real reviews – on blogs/magazines/newspapers/tv etc.
The CMA would like to know your thoughts, if you are a blogger in the UK, please take 10 mins and fill out this form.
I’d like to open up the conversation on here. What do YOU think about online reviews? I’m thinking not just about blog reviews etc, but Trip Advisor, Amazon and all those websites with obviously fake reviews..what can be done to stop companies faking reviews to make themselves or their products look better than they actually are?