Google any consumer product, whether it be electronics, sports equipment, or diet supplements, and chances are great you’ll find a website offering what appears to be unbiased reviews on the pros and cons of the product. While many do offer honest and factual information, others have another agenda. They claim to be independent news reporters describing personal experiences with products; yet they are actually slick marketers engaging in practices that are not only deceptive, but also illegal.
The FTC filed charges in Chicago and Seattle federal courts against five operators of these “fake” news websites hawking Acai Berry diet products and “colon cleansers
.” Some of the companies and individuals running these Acai Berry schemes were barred from moving their assets or getting rid of any business records while the lawsuits are underway. The owners of the websites were told they could either take the website down or display a statement revealing that the FTC slapped a lawsuit on them. It appears that most chose to take down the website.Fake product reviews.
One problem with these particular sites is that they claim they are “objective investigative reports,” however the FTC says the reporters were fictional and they never did what they claimed to have done, like try the Acai Berry
products for themselves. The FTC court documents say these claims and the detailed results of their experiences with Acai are all bogus.
Besides being an illegal marketing scheme, there’s another little problem: Acai Berry products have not always been proven to work in the way they've been advertised. The FTC is pretty serious about making false claims (and very strict in the weight loss niche
). The sites named in the lawsuit claimed that the products could result in “rapid and substantial weight loss” to the tune of 25 pounds in a month.FTC says full disclosure of compensation.
In 2009, FTC published guidelines about what should be disclosed on a blog if the bloggers are affiliates for the product. In other words, if they are being compensated within a commercial relationship that fact has to be disclosed. But more than that, bloggers have to tell the truth. It’s a pity that has to be set out as a “rule.”
On the Internet, the lines are blurry between articles, product content, and advertising. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with advertorial content. Think of the full-page advertising sections in the newspaper or magazines that are formatted to look like a news article. But these types of marketing materials are always marked as an advertisement so the reader knows there will be a pitch somewhere. It’s not always so in the online world, and that’s why the FTC thinks that some websites have crossed the line of ethical advertising.