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April 11, 2016
The CMA has been investigating the use of online reviews and endorsements, including those made by bloggers or on social media, to ensure that they are being used in line with consumer protection law.
The letter addresses the CMA’s concerns in the following two areas:
- clearly labelling or identifying paid promotions; and
- writing, commissioning and publishing fake reviews.
As far as paid promotions are concerned, the letter reminds readers that the use of editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid (financially or otherwise) for the promotion, without making this clear to the consumer, is unlawful and may lead to enforcement action. Therefore, businesses that pay for promotions in articles or blogs should ensure this has been made clear to readers/viewers, for example by:
- clearly identifying or labelling paid promotions;
- providing clear instructions to marketing agencies and anyone else involved in the publication of paid promotions on how to implement this; and
- ensuring that their policies on paid promotions reflect the requirements of consumer protection law and that their marketing staff are aware of the requirements of the law.
Further, the letter states, marketing agencies and other intermediaries which arrange for paid promotions to be published should ensure that they are clearly identifiable by readers/viewers, for example by:
- instructing online publications and bloggers to label clearly or identify paid promotions;
- ensuring their policies reflect the requirements of consumer protection law and that their staff are aware of the requirements of the law; and
- turning down requests from businesses to arrange paid promotions that are not clearly labelled or identified.
It is the CMA’s view that everyone involved in online endorsements is responsible for ensuring that paid promotions are clearly labelled or identified. This includes people who instruct, facilitate, arrange or publish paid promotions. If the content is not correctly labelled or identified, consumers may be misled into thinking it represents the author’s genuine opinion when a business has in fact paid to influence the content.
The CMA has also produced a brief guide for businesses summarising how to comply with consumer protection law in relation to online endorsements.
As for fake reviews, the letter reminds readers that writing or commissioning a fake review, either in relation to one’s own products or someone else’s, is a breach of consumer protection law and may lead to civil or even criminal action. Therefore, businesses, and anyone acting on their behalf, should not:
- offer inducements to customers in return for writing positive reviews about their businesses; and
- pretend to be a customer and write fake reviews about their own or other businesses’ products.
The CMA has also produced a brief guide for businesses and marketing agencies, summarising how to comply with consumer protection law in relation to online reviews.
The letter concludes that while it is perfectly legal to market products through blogs, videos and other online publications or to invite customers to leave feedback on review sites, it is important that this is done honestly, openly and in compliance with consumer protection law. Misleading readers or viewers falls foul of consumer protection law and could result in enforcement by either the CMA or Trading Standards Services, which may lead to civil and/or criminal action. To read the letter in full, click here.