The Office of Fair Trading, the UK’s answer to the FTC, has established its position on paid-for plugging on social media websites. According to an announcement issued last month by the OFT relating to an enforcement action pursued against a small UK media firm, online advertising and marketing that fails to disclose that it contains paid-for promotions or commentary on particular products is misleading to the public and potentially violatory behavior under UK consumer protection laws. This applies not only to traditional marketing, but to commentary about services and products published on web blogs and microblogs such as Twitter.
There is some anticipation that the OFT will launch a crackdown on celebrities who are given financial incentives to “tweet” about their favorite products. When questioned, though, a spokeperson for the OFT was tight-lipped about its enforcement approach going forward. Importantly, no concrete guidelines on appropriate behaviour have been developed in the UK yet. The FTC, however, released guidance more than a year ago on product testimonials and celebrity endorsements. For more information, please refer to Covington & Burling’s client e-alert discussing these guidelines.