It looks like the fine folks at Seagram’s are unfamiliar with new FTC regulations requiring disclosure when paid staff or consultants leave comments in support of their products that they are compensated to do so.
This past Friday (November 27th, at 5:07pm) a commenter named Shana left this comment on a post that had nothing to do with Seagram’s, Seagram’s 7 Dark Honey, or even whiskey:
Those cocktails look fantastic! I’m home in Connecticut for the holidays and brought back a bottle of the new Seagram’s 7 Dark Honey. I’m not sure if its available yet in CT but it slowing coming around in NYC (where I live). Its really really smooth and mixes well with a bunch of different things. We tried everything from vanilla coke, root-beer, apple juice, ginger ale.. seems to go with just about anything My way: on the rocks, twist of lemon.
have you seen this product around you yet?
The comment looked suspiciously like comments by staff at Cashmere Agency earlier this year promoting an absinthe product, Le Tourment Vert, without disclosing that they represented the firm (they were subsequently fired for astroturfing on cocktail blogs). Coincidentally, this also looks pretty similar to what the FTC exactly has in mind when they set out to regulate how blogs and blog comment sections are used to promote commercial products to a potentially unsuspecting audience.
I did some quick Googling and it turns out that Shana is regularly concerned about finding Seagram’s 7 Honey Dark.
On Friday, November 27th, she left this comment on Topix.com:
has anyone been able to locate the new Seagram’s 7 Dark Honey?? I had the chance to try it a few weeks ago in New York but I can not find anywhere to purchase. It was sooo smooth and perfect on the rocks and I want to have it for the upcoming holidays. Any help or suggestions where to buy in NYC or order online would be awesome thanks
Now it’s odd that she would, on the same day, ask where she can buy a product that she had said in my comments was available near here in New York City, isn’t it?
On November 19th, Shana expressed interest in using Seagram’s in lieu of another honey flavored spirit on BlissTree.com. Again she expresses knowledge and certainty that the product is available in New York:
you guys we just got the new Seagrams 7 Dark Honey in New York and any of the cocktails would be awesome if you subbed the barenjager with dark honey! has anyone else tried this yet besides me??
Shana’s work hasn’t be limited to blogs and sites writing about cocktails. She’s even talking up Seagram’s new product on Twitter.
@shanabarry: @GirlyDrinks love when that happens! the reformulated Godivas are so good! I was sent the Seagrams 7 Dark honey, fantastic, have u tried?
This was all the way back on November 16th. She hit Twitter again on November 17th, promoting Seagram’s 7 Dark Honey in connection to an unrelated social event:
@shanabarry: jus got the AE Event Time Sq with Celebrity Blogger @miahJesse. We had a delish Seagrams 7 Dark Honey cocktail pre-arrival:) everyones here
A little more Googling shows that Shana Barry is in fact a marketing professional who current works at mktg. Mktg represents Diageo. And Diageo owns Seagram’s. Fun stuff.
First, I’m not certain that the new FTC regulations covering disclosure for product endorsements will cover Twitter. Frankly, I hope it doesn’t, as 140 characters does not lend itself well to onerous requirements of disclosure text. I’m not posting Shana’s tweets to imply impropriety, only to show that she has an intense and repeated habit of talking about Seagram’s 7 Dark Honey when there is no real reason for her to do so, other than a presumably professional one.
Second, as I said above, the FTC’s new regulations on this sort of behavior do not go into effect until December 1st, 2009. I don’t think Shana has done anything to run afoul of the FTC.
But it is annoying to have people come on your site, shill for a product, and not disclose that they are being compensated to do so. All she had to say in response to my post on Thanksgiving cocktails is:
Hey, thanks for sharing the recipes. I work for a company that’s helping Seagram’s promote their new product, Seagram’s 7 Dark Honey. Here’s a recipe for it – I hope you enjoy.
That’s it. It would disclose her relationship to the product, but still be a useful and informative post. As someone who works in the political internet professionally, it simply blows me away that other professionals in the commercial marketing field don’t treat cocktail bloggers with respect by disclosing who they are and why they are commenting. Blogging is a labor of love for most of us and astroturfing is insulting.
As of Tuesday, people like Shana will have bigger problems than annoyed bloggers when they leave comments like this. I hope that marketing companies and the spirits companies who hire them take note and participate as better members of this community moving forward.