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New laws that came in to force on Bank Holiday Monday should give pause to marketers using blogs, social media and the web in general. The new Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which implement Europe’s 2005 Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and will be executed by the Office of Fair Trading, give consumers better protection from 31 marketing practices. The general principle: don’t mislead potential customers. Of note to the online world, fake web testimonials are now outlawed.
Coca-Cola, L’Oreal unit Vichy, Wal-Mart, Sony and Whole Foods have all been caught using blogs or forums under fake identities to tout their own products or criticise those of competitors. Despite it clearly being unwise to test the limits of ethics in such a way, some of those campaigns were initiated by big PR firms like Edelman. The blog crowd usually has a way of sniffing out the floggers (fake bloggers); now such practices are rendered illegal.