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Abstract

Technology provides consumers with new ways to avoid advertisements, such as fast forwarding through TV commercials and using filtering software to block pop-up ads. Accordingly brand sponsors and their advertising marketing firms have sought alternative methods to pierce through consumer resistance to ads. Social media offers an optimal platform to reach millions of consumers on a nearly daily basis who interact and often rely heavily on the reviews and rankings of fellow consumers. However, many of today’s branding campaigns now mask sponsored ads as ordinary consumer reviews or “Like” and “Don’t Like” responses to a service or product. Unbeknownst to the average consumer, these reviewers may have received compensation for their feedback, been paid to disparage a competitor, or may even be automated software programs, and not human at all. The FTC has attempted to regulate this aspect of the consumer blogosphere by revising its Endorsement Guides in 2009. This article espouses that these Revised Guides fall short of being a comprehensive solution, and in some respects, are even in conflict with existing precedent, statutory law and standards of fairness. This article examines these new branding approaches to online marketing and advertising, the FTC’s response, and how the Endorsement Guides could be revised to be more effective in combating various forms of deception. This article also proposes a greater reliance on self-regulatory measures aimed at lessening the corrosive effects of fake or deceptive online ratings and reviews and at improving the robust exchange of ideas and opinions between ordinary consumers on the Web.