The annual SXSW conference/festival is just around the corner with Austin gearing up for an influx of musicians, filmmakers, technologist, bloggers, press and the marketers that support them.
As has been the case, many brands are sponsoring bloggers to make their way to Texas to report on the event. This relationship, of course, requires openness and disclosure on the part of each side.
Ethical, professional and legal considerations come into play when there is an exchange of buzz for money, and could even hurt the credibility of some bloggers who want to be taken seriously. And then there is the matter of disclosure.
This year, Chevrolet is sending online video reporter Shira Lazar to be the official host for all Chevrolet SXSW content during 10 days of the event. That’s airfare and hotel accommodations — and some of the rooms can run as high as $500 a night. Also on Chevy’s payroll: Veronica Belmont, co-host of Revision 3’s “Tekzilla” and part of the automaker’s “Cruze-arati” roster of blogger-endorsers. She’ll be blogging, tweeting her 1.5 million followers and uploading video of her experiences at the festival as well as “chatting it up with other attendees and possibly even hosting webchats in the Volt Lounge,” Chevrolet said.
Chevrolet spokesman Matt Dickman said content creators are asked to “capture the spirit of the event.” Are they required to talk about Chevy cars such as the Cruze? “We don’t ask them to talk about Chevy unless it makes sense with what they’re doing — like interviewing a celebrity while they are driven to an event in a Chevy Cruze — and even then, the brand is in the background, but enabling that experience,” Mr. Dickman said. “Last year, for example, we covered the best tattoos, coolest dogs and the best shoes for SXSW as well as celebrity access and entertainment.” In addition to Ms. Lazar and Ms. Belmont, Steven Smith and Micah Jesse are sponsored by Chevrolet to cover music and film.
That’s the ethical side of the equation. There’s a legal side too. In 2009 the US Federal Trade Commission established new guidelines governing sponsorships and endorsements, be it from celebrities, ordinary citizens and bloggers alike.
The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.
So, too those attending and reporting on what their attending: have a great time, and make sure you transparently disclose who foot the bill to get you there.