New Federal Trade Commission Guidelines and Food Writers

foodpoliceThe Federal Trade Commission recently updated its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” If you are a blogger, freelance writer, advertising copy writer, or professional writer you need to read the document, especially if you accept complimentary products such as food, wine, or free dinners. The revised rules require you to disclose how you received the products you review or endorse. Scott, over at Dallasfood.org has a brilliant analysis of the document.

Let me give you an example what happens here at D headquarters on a regular basis. Let’s say a box of cupcakes, a package of chocolate, or bag of food samples arrives with a note from the store owner or publicist. Everyone in the office goes bonkers and whatever is delivered disappears in about 2 seconds. If we don’t post anything on SideDish, I generally receive a “follow-up” note like this:

Hi Nancy, I just wanted to follow up on the “Insert Name” “Insert Item” that we sent last week from “Insert Company” and get your thoughts/feedback on the new flavors. We think it would make an interesting post on SideDish or an article for your magazine. We’d love to hear what you thought of them and see if they might be a fit for an upcoming story or mention. “Insert Company” will be expanding and owner “Insert Name” is hoping to open more locations soon.  We appreciate any comments you have!

If someone on the SideDish staff decides to write about the product, they now have to mention the fact that the food was not paid for by D Magazine. If we don’t, we violate the Federal Trade Commission Act and could receive a fine.

At the risk of calling in the food police, I will say that we have always run a tight ship around here. We’ve always paid for food we review and I do not attend media dinners or accept complimentary dinners. We have sent a copy of the FTC guidelines to our attorney to make sure we comply with all of the rules.

But here is one rub—I’ve already heard that some bloggers and indie food writers are finding ways to get around the rules by posting one small disclaimer somewhere on their webpage and not in the copy of the item. So readers beware. Ask questions. It’s a jungle out there.

19 comments on “New Federal Trade Commission Guidelines and Food Writers

  1. I feel insulted that I’d need somebody to tell me when they’re getting stuff for free. Even when it’s not blatantly obvious, it’s not too hard to figure out. This is a clear example of government overreach and our grand country’s decent into socialism.

  2. Socialism is an **economic system** highlighted by government control over a country’s many means of production.

    Give me an effin’ break, Luniz, with such insular, incomplete, wrong whining.

  3. This is idiocy.

    Of course, most of the time it’s clear that the food is free and was effective in getting the DMag crew to provide some free advertising. See, for example, Celeste’s post on FB on a “two step plan” for a business to get “gratuitous mentions of [their] promotion on FrontBurner”. He doesn’t explicitly say he was given the Sprinkles, and I guess he has to under these regulations.

    While the regulations are idiocy, and generally the posts are explicit that “the donut shop gave me some free stuff and have a new location on Preston!”, I will say that I’m always put off by that sort of thing. I’m sure that “formal” reviews are handled with the utmost ethical discretion, but the blog world at most of the D empire has always appeared in the bag for penny-ante ticket or foodstuff payola. You only get those follow-up notes because the tactic works.

  4. Ahh Bill I can only suggest you read one of the 20th centuries greatest works of literature, the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Surely you’ll become enlightened as to the emasculating nature of these regulations.

    FWIW I don’t think the free cupcake thing even requires consideration. You can pretty much write off anybody who raves about a cupcake anyway.

  5. The Fountainhead is one of the 20th Century’s greatest works of literature?

    Luniz, you need to do some more reading!

  6. If, police warning suspects of their rights became commonly known as to “Mirandize” after the famous USSC plaintiff, then to abide by this FTC rule should now be known as to “Marianize” after the famous freebie-accepting dining critic, John Mariani. Just an idea.

  7. nah I’m just trolling. Ayn Rand was obnoxious and couldn’t out-write JK Rawling.

    Really though, it is somewhat insulting that I need the FTC (what do they know about food) to tell me when somebody’s a shill. Sounds like a sweet job for somebody though. But I prefer the old days of the internet as the wild west. The FTC should stick to what they do best, which is censoring radio speech based on political considerations.

  8. I believe it is JK Rowling, unless of course you are referring to JK Rawlins Gilliland, whose works are reknown in these parts.

  9. Not to turn this into a literary post, but isn’t The Fountainhead’s main focus on architecture and a man (Howard Rourke) who is unwilling to compromise his beliefs or love for buildings in their physical form to be compromised?

    I would think Atlas Shrugged would be a more fitting reference of Ayn Rand’s writings when comparing the plot points to socialism and aggressive government regulation.