A flood of blog articles on touring the restaurants of South Coast Plaza was unleashed earlier this month. The tour was concluded just days before the ink dried on an FTC amendment to include blogs in guidelines stating that paid or compensated endorsements must be disclosed. The timing was fortunate for South Coast Plaza, who openly offered bloggers material compensation for writing about the event. Not only were bloggers offered the typical gift-bag schwag when touring area restaurants, they were explicitly offered $100 gift certificates for writing about the experience within three days, and another $100 gift certificate for Tweeting three times at each stop on the tour. South Coast Plaza effectively guaranteed itself coverage, not through the restaurants' merits, but through the offer of luxury goods and services.
Though shimmying in under the FTC wire and also giving an option to donate the blogger booty to charity, South Coast Plaza's offer made O.C. Register writer Nancy Luna "uncomfortable with the offer," and she declined to go. She also named the sites that had gone on the tour and published stories within 72 hours. Fortunately, the honesty of our local bloggers mostly prevailed. All but one of the sites was fully honest about what they were offered and what they accepted, with one site even giving the schwag back to its readers in a giveaway. For its part, South Coast Plaza says no gift certificates have been dispersed yet. Now that the FTC is giving closer scrutiny to the practice of paid endorsements, this is the sort of blatant bribe that will hopefully come to an end. We'd love to hear from any other bloggers who objected to the event's coaxing or have thoughts.
South Coast Plaza Offers $100 to Bloggers Who Eat, Then Tweet [O.C. Register/Fast Food Maven]