Now, Web-Birds of a Feather Can Actually Flock Together

Well, it seems like almost yesterday (actually a little more than a month ago), that a subsidiary of Mixx, the popular social voting site, launched TweetMixx, a new service that enables companies, brands, politicians, and celebrities collect and aggregate all the mentions about them on Twitter on a single page. “TweetMixx Channels,” as the service is branded, enables you to create a branded page, tailored to you – from your own Twitter Tweets and RSS Feeds to comments from customers, reviewers, fans or pretty much anything you like. We’ll use “you” generically to mean any label that fits – people, brands, goods, services, you name it.

Ever see those vanity license plates on cars? Now you can have your own vanity Twitter Mixx channel, and the service uses “Tabs” to allow a variety of features and functions. There’s one that uses search terms to find links and tweets about you on Twitter, in apparent deference to the new Federal Trade Commission Endorsement Guides (see our post FTC (Revised) Endorsement Guides Go Into Effect earlier today; there’s an “Insiders” tab that identifies anyone with a material connection or that is associated with you (e.g., employees, agents, paid endorsers); and other tabs that enable you to customize and populate the channel. In addition, since the service appears to act both as an aggregation and a search tool for content about you, consumers can find all the Twitter traffic and channel information about you in one place, and at the same time, you can use the service to track and monitor conversations and references to you on Twitter. Right for consumers; right for you – clever.

Remember Facebook’s personalized URLs just a few months ago (Legal Bytes blog post Facebook Adds Personalization & a (Brand) New Dimension)? This is not simply another social media fad. Already companies are getting on the bandwagon (or should we say birdwagon). Today, the National Hockey League (www.nhl.com) will be among the first few enterprises launching its TweetMixx Channel – its own private label branded distribution platform using the TweetMixx service. TweetMixx even provides you with a widget that can be embedded on other websites (think bloggers, profile pages, etc.). The NHL’s “Chatter” tab on TweetMixx, for example, will provide streaming tweets from hockey fans, while a “Links” tab will keep track of the tweets that are retweeted most often, and will rank these favorites by putting them at the top of the TweetMixx Channel web page.

So for advertisers, brand managers, marketing professionals and agencies, this new tool is the beginning of enabling a clearer strategic use of Tweets. Just as branded pages and channels, enabling two-way conversations, have emerged on YouTube and Facebook, allowing brands and celebrities to engage with consumers and fans, TweetMixx seeks to provide an ecosystem for Twitter traffic. Chris McGill, founder and CEO of Mixx, noted that each TweetMixx Channel can be analogized to a “tree.” You have TweetMixx plant a customized tree of your choice, then you are given the tools to nurture it, to prune it and to watch it grow. Do it right and you have branches where Twitter users can “flock, sit and sing” about you – the people, products, services and things they care about. TweetMixx owns the forest!

Can you or your brand afford to stay out of the social media arena? Are you afraid of the new risk-reward paradigm and uncertain what to do? Do you know you have to do something, but are suffering from analysis paralysis? Have traditional models got you stuck in the mire? Call us. Our Advertising Technology & Media law practice group and our newly formed Social Media Task Force already have unparalleled depth, experience and bench-strength in understanding, working with, and advising clients in this brave new world. From developing policies to monitoring compliance; from protecting and enforcing your rights to developing relationships and partnerships with others to engage in the conversation. To win it, you have to be in it. If you need help, contact me, Joseph I. (“Joe”) Rosenbaum, or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work. We are happy to help.

FTC (Revised) Endorsement Guides Go Into Effect

This post was written by John Feldman.

Yesterday, Dec. 1, 2009, the revised “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” released by the Federal Trade Commission came into effect. If you are a loyal Legal Bytes’ reader, you know we have been following this as early as November 2008, when we posted Endorsements & Testimonials – FTC Broom Proposes Some Sweeping Changes. Numerous updates and informational pieces have graced these pages since then (now when we say “pages,” we mean web pages), and you can refer back to any or all of them, or you can check out any you may have missed right here: FTC Testimonial and Endorsement Guides Stimulate Industry Comment (March 2009); a presentation given at the University of Limerick on the subject entitled “Trust Me, I’m a Satisfied Customer: Testimonials & Endorsements in the United States,” which you can download (If You Didn’t Make It to Ireland …); Ghostwriters: Medical Research or Paid Endorsers (and are they mutually exclusive?) and Rights of Publicity – Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! (both in August 2009); and FTC Releases Updated Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines and Rimon Analysis of the New FTC Endorsement and Testimonial Guidelines (both in October 2009).

Yesterday, John P. Feldman, an authority in these types of advertising regulations and compliance and who is based in Washington, D.C., put together some thoughts concerning the implications of these Guides upon coming into effect, continuing his thoughtful and practical analysis. While we will maintain bringing you news and information about the Guides, John’s analysis is timely and helpful, and outlines some considerations every advertiser – online, in social media and off-line – and every blogger, viral marketer, celebrity endorser or consumer making a testimonial, should take into account. John’s analysis, which you can download and read in its entirety by selecting the link below, asks and answers the following questions about these Guides:

  • What does this mean for advertisers?
  • What is the most dramatic shift in enforcement policy?
  • What will this mean for advertisers that use celebrity endorsers?
  • How much control should sponsoring advertisers exercise over endorsers in new media channels?
  • What impact will the FTC’s new approach to clinical trials have on the OTC, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industry?
  • Is there a role for self-regulation and what do you make of the proposed “best practices” recently announced by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)?

You can download your own copy of John’s analysis or you can read it online right here: “FTC Endorsement Guides (Revised) – Some Thoughts As They Become Effective“. You won’t be disappointed. In addition, if you want to know more about these issues or have questions about your particular circumstances, please do contact John P. Feldman directly, or you can call Joseph I. Rosenbaum or Douglas. J. Wood or, of course, any Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

FTC May Broaden Regulation & Enforcement of Privacy

The New York Times today has published some of the views of David C. Vladeck, the new head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, regarding the FTC’s role in protecting consumer privacy. 

By way of background, in announcing Mr. Vladeck’s appointment April 14, 2009, the FTC noted that “David C. Vladeck, who will serve as Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, has been a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, teaching federal courts, government processes, civil procedure, and First Amendment litigation. He co-directed the Center’s Institute for Public Representation, a clinical law program for civil rights, civil liberties, First Amendment, open government, and regulatory litigation. Vladeck previously spent almost 30 years with Public Citizen Litigation Group, including 10 years as Director.”

The FTC has been, and likely will continue to be, among the most aggressive federal agencies in the U.S. privacy arena. Traditionally, the FTC had prosecuted companies for how they collect and use consumer information, if consumers had been deceived, or if consumers had suffered economic harm. Although you can read The New York Times article in full, Mr. Vladeck has proposed adding a new thrust to the future of FTC privacy enforcement. He is reported to have suggested that if companies collect too much information from a consumer, that, in itself, is a harm to the inherent privacy of individuals AND (if his views turn out to be prophetic) is prosecutable, no matter how conspicuously or completely the nature and extent of information collection is disclosed to the consumer. This concept of damage to the "dignity" of the consumer goes well beyond the traditional U.S. privacy principles that have typically compensated consumers only when economic harm or damage has occurred, or when there are statutory penalties for violations of law or regulation.  

If Mr. Vladeck’s views transform into regulatory policy and enforcement activity, this highly subjective and vague standard (How much is too much? Why shouldn’t proper disclosure and choice be sufficient?) could have a huge impact on data collection, could lead to a huge flurry of litigation, and would arguably create a "big chill" for all—including consumers. Stay tuned.

FTC Releases Mobile Marketplace Report

Earlier today, the FTC staff issued a report concerning consumer protection issues arising in the mobile commerce marketplace. A copy of the full report, Beyond Voice, Mapping the Mobile Marketplace is available by clicking the link. The key findings in the report:

  • Cost disclosures about mobile services continue to generate consumer complaints. The FTC staff intends to monitor cost disclosures, bring law enforcement actions, and work with industry to improve self-regulatory enforcement
  • The FTC and its law enforcement partners should continue to monitor the impact on consumers of unwanted mobile text messages, malware and spyware, and take law enforcement action if and as needed
  • Although spyware and malware are not yet significant problems on mobile devices, the FTC is encouraging development of strategies to prevent or minimize their spread, since the issue is likely to magnify as consumers increasingly use mobile devices for a wider range of applications, including Internet access
  • Increasing use of smart phones to access the mobile Web presents unique privacy challenges, especially regarding children. The FTC will expedite regulatory review of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule to determine whether the rule should be modified to address changes in the mobile marketplace. This review was originally set for 2015, and will now begin in 2010 instead.

Given the numbers of wireless and mobile devices in the hands of individuals under the age of 18 (and 13), and the increasing proliferation of mobile devices, this will become a hotter topic in the months and years ahead. As if this point needed to be emphasized, it has been reported that as of January 2007—two years ago—there were approximately 800 million cars, 850 million personal computers, 1.5 billion television sets, but already 2.7 billion (yes, billion) wireless and mobile devices in use around the globe, with more than 800 million e-mail and 1.8 billion SMS text-messaging users.

The sheer numbers are staggering, and we are on top of this issue big time. Contact Joe Rosenbaum, John Feldman or Douglas Wood if you need more information or assistance.

FTC Testimonial and Endorsement Guides Stimulate Industry Comment

Rimon acts as counsel to many of the advertising industry’s leading trade and membership associations – The Association of National Advertisers, The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, to name only a few. As you may have notices, a recent Legal Bytes blog post noted that just last month the FTC supplemented its December 2007 “Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising” report.

Well the FTC has been busy in re-examining it’s policies regarding testimonials and endorsements in this digital age. As previously reported in Legal Bytes, the FTC indicated it was revising it’s Testimonial and Endorsement Guides (the first time since the 1980s). Well comments have now been submitted and we strongly recommend that anyone in the advertising and marketing business take a look at some of them. In fact, to help you, Legal Bytes has a couple you can look at right now – Comments for The Association of National Advertisers and Comments for The Word of Mouth Marketing Association – and when you finish reading them ask yourself:

  • Now that public comments are in, what do we think will happen?
  • What is in front of the FTC that might affect its decision making?
  • How would self-regulation differ from the way the FTC has been operating?
  • What does the new FTC Chairman think about self-regulation?
  • Do we expect the new administration to shift direction? If so, which way?
  • How is all this likely to affect advertising and marketing using product placements, branded entertainment, blogs, consumer generated content, buzz, viral and word of mouth marketing?

If you need to know, you need to contact John Feldman, Douglas Wood or Joseph Rosenbaum – or your favorite Rimon attorney – who will be more than happy to help you.

Behave Yourself – FTC Behavioral Ad Guidelines Promote Self Regulation, BUT . . .

FTC Releases Revised Ad Guidelines: Are New Marketing Practices in Your Wallet?

On February 12, 2009, the FTC supplemented its December 2007 “Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising” report, highlighting the FTC’s voluntary best practices for the behavioral advertising industry. While continuing to support self-regulation, that should not be taken as a vote of confidence for continuing the status quo. Change is in the air and you may well need to:

  • develop more consumer education concerning behavioral advertising;
  • develop internal privacy protections for anonymous data profiles;
  • create opt-in notice mechanisms for collection of sensitive information; and
  • create opt-in notice mechanisms for retroactive changes to privacy practices.

. . . and if you think your privacy policies are ok, as is, think again. The FTC has taken a broad brush to paint a picture of what it considers personally identifiable information (PII) and what ‘sharing’ of that information may require. Our experts Amy S. Mushahwar and John P. Feldman have written an alert that describes what you need to know in more detail. To read the full alert, with links to the FTC releases, click here.

FTC Continues to Focus on Marketing to Children

The FTC is expected to release a Report on how violence is being used to market to children—in movies, music and video games. Some insiders fear the FTC will suggest the entertainment industry has violated or outgrown its voluntary standards—can you say “regulation.” Both the FTC and the FCC have targeted children’s advertising, programming and products. Want to know more? Contact John P. Feldman in our Washington, D.C. office; me or Douglas J. Wood in our New York office; or Stephen Edwards, Michael Skrein or Carolyn Pepper in our London office. Please also visit our www.KidAdLaw.com web pages. If you market or advertise to children or if you are a company that carries advertising which is or could be targeted to children, why would you look anywhere else for legal counsel.

Employee Blogging May Subject Employers to Liability

The FTC, in a recent advisory opinion, highlighted the possibility that a seller’s failure to disclose the connection with an endorser could result in a violation of the FTC Act. This opinion has legal implications for blogging by employees, even on personal time and even if the company is unaware of the employee’s activities. Employees should be advised to strictly abide by their employer’s blogging policy, and if they blog about a product, they must identify their employment status. What? You don’t have an employee blogging policy? Shame on you. Come get one. Come to Rimon. Need to know more? Read our Labor & Employment e-flash bulletin “According to the FTC, Employee Blogging May Subject Employers to Liability” and contact the authors, Angela M. Washelesky in our Chicago office or Sara A. Begley in our Philadelphia office.

COPPA – Xanga Settles

Based on a complaint that Xanga knew it was collecting (and sharing) personal information from children under the age of 13 (they asked for and were given the birth dates from registrants), the FTC reached a settlement agreement in which Xanga.com agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1 million. The complaint also alleged that Xanga didn’t notify children’s parents, nor did they give parents access to or control over their children’s information.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) mandates that commercial web sites give parents notice and get consent before collecting personal information from children they know to be younger than 13 years old. The order which is part of the settlement with the FTC forces Xanga to erase any personal information collected and stored that violates the Act. Xanga also will have to put up hypertext links for the next five years to FTC-designated consumer educational materials.

Social networking has been in the news recently for many reasons. Recently, Facebook was faced with controversy when it started serving automated alerts about users’ friends and classmates. Facebook has less than 10 million users, compared with MySpace—which is now owned by News Corp.—which has in excess of 100 million users.

Brands & Entertainment

Those name brands appearing in hit shows. Those logos on the motion picture screen. The characters at the breakfast table with a favorite cereal. The star driving around in a particular automobile. The airline shown flying the lead character off to an exotic destination. Reality? Coincidence? Hardly. They are the result of contracts between the entertainment company or producers and the advertisers, and they represent a growing and important trend in marketing to consumers, along with the Internet, as reaching market segments through traditional radio and television advertising becomes increasingly difficult in our on-demand, fast-forward world.

In some cases, such “branded” entertainment is subtle—inserting itself into a scene or a sequence quite seamlessly and, not necessarily inconsistent with, reality. In other cases—“Harold and Khumar Go to White Castle”—yes, this really was the name of a movie, as was “Akeelah and the Bee,” which Starbucks helped finance and promote. In case you didn’t know, the FCC (and the FTC) regulate advertising on television—the FCC’s regulations concerning disclosure arose primarily from the quiz show scandals in the 1950s. When does creative control over programming yield to paid sponsorship and financing dollars or Euros (or British Pound Sterling). At what point does a program or movie become an infomercial or advercast? Are there vulnerable groups (e.g., children) that might not distinguish so readily between advertising and programming and at what point is that deceptive? What does SAG say about their actors being de facto appearing to endorse a product or brand inserted into their scenes and programs? If an actress is under contract with a cosmetic brand exclusively and a movie scene requires her to use a different brand—actionable? When the trailer with that clip airs on broadcast television—problem? Witness the following quote from Jonathan Adelstein, FCC Commissioner: “Now, products have even seeped into plot lines. Soap operas have woven cosmetic lines into their tales of who-did-what-with-who, while “The Apprentice” sounds more and more like an hour-long infomercial for the latest corporate sponsors.”

Trademark issues, endorsement and competitive/ambush marketing issues, free speech, freedom of expression, adequacy of disclosures, misleading or deceptive advertising—the list of potential issues is growing as the balance between creative control and commercial reality infect the entertainment industry. At one extreme is the traditional product placement in which an advertiser pays a fee for the hopes that the scene with its product doesn’t get cut and wind up on the editing room floor. At the other extreme is a placement fee and promotional campaign that is so integrally tied with the plot and the program that the two are indistinguishable—think “The Apprentice” or “Home Makeover.”

The deals are becoming more complex, and more fraught with potential legal and regulatory issues, and the stakes are higher. Need help? Contact Doug Wood or me—we would be happy to help.