Wine editorial as advertisement – from France to the US?

For enophiles, one of the great travesties of the past few years has been the rise of a new puritanism in France. Yes, the country perhaps most associated with wine has, paradoxically, also seen increasing amounts resistance to wine from some parts of society. In my book Wine Politics, I’ve compared this (French?) twist with America and how the two countries seem to be headed in opposite directions; many others have also commented on these changes.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping of the actions relates to wine and the internet. A French court ruled early last year that Heineken’s web site was illegal to display in France, which sparked fears and confusion among wine web sites and Microsoft pulled wine ads. Also, in another decision last year, a court fined the newspaper Le Parisien €5,000 for a champagne review article claiming that it was no different than an advertisement and should run the disclaimer: “Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.”

it-can-happen-hereThat could never happen here, right?

Well, not entirely. According to this article on, under new Federal Trade Commission regulations on Consumer Product Testimonial and Endorsement Rules, product reviews on blogs may soon fall under the same liability standard as advertisements. (Given the various claims to the tune of “lose thirty pounds in thirty days,” one might easily be forgiven for not even realizing that there even were advertising standards.) The most obviously affected category would be paid reviews, but those, rightfully, shouldn’t count as editorial anyway.

“It would only affect bloggers who are paid to write reviews but the sticky issue that is raised is what happens if a product is given for free,” an FTC spokesman told ABC News.

That could raise a host of issues for wine bloggers as well as wine journalists whose articles appear on the internet. But whether a review of a free sample wine (as opposed to a purchased wine) could ever be seen as basis for liability, as it might in an infant car seat as the focus of the ABC story, seems like an incredible long shot. The subjectivity of reviews (what, you couldn’t find notes of raspberry and saddle leather?) and the bottle variation among consumers in different states would be two strong aspects running against any enforcement of this FTC act. As they probably say in fine print on the weight loss ads, results may vary.

One way to connect the dots more closely might be if the blogger in question were, say, a wine retailer or a winery who also happens to sell wine. There’s a lot of web content, be it blogs or Twitter or Facebook updates, emanating directly from wine sellers and marketers that might fall under this increased stringency from the FTC.

As Matt Drudge might say, “developing…”

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10 Responses to “Wine editorial as advertisement – from France to the US?”

  1. Dr V-

    I wonder how this “developing” law would change podcasts? I am thinking of on a particular one that is actually a video and I am certain the wines discusssed are offered for sale at his store. To be honest I wouldn’t mind if they eliminated all the blogging about wines that appears innocent but is actually being used as free advertising. I bolg for good conversation about wine,and topics being discussed in the industry. For the people who are getting paid to host blogs they should be paid to to just that host a great blog that drives traffic to the particular site so the site can charge for advertising on the site. Although as wines are mentioned by hosts in reviewes of a region in a particular vintage I have no idea how anyone could filter whether or not the host is being paid to mention the wines or not. Good topic!


  2. If this is about liability, then wouldn’t any blog recommending any wine (not just a particular wine) be held accountable? And if everyone is accountable, then no one is.

    Perhaps there’s an additional degree of risk for those who are retailers who hawk their wares via a blog (or vlog). Gary V, I’m lookin’ at you.

    But again, does one wine put consumers at more of a risk of … something… than another? I don’t see it. If there’s an argument about wine in general, then an entire industry (publishing, blogs, stores) is at risk. But particular wines are a matter of taste. I don’t see the FTC enforcing tastes.

    And even if you’ve got a true liability argument to make, how would you be able to identify where a wine recommendation came from? A blog, a mag, a store? Except for the most obscure products, it would be hard to narrow down the source of a consumer’s interest in a product.

    And if someone benefits from a recommendation, are bloggers eligible for a cut of the profits, or would they only be liable on the downside?

    This entire idea strikes me as unenforceable.

  3. I wish them luck in enforcing any of that, since it would cost millions and just about every government agency everywhere is running in the red…

  4. They don’t need to catch every offender. They need only apprehend a few offenders and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law to send a message ala Napster.

    More importantly doesn’t this movement toward bureaucratic fascism scare the hell out of everyone? This is a pox that can be attributed to both political houses. For all those that dismissed the TEA Party protestors as angry, white, ignorant and paranoid, you clearly missed the point. Yes we all pay too much tax. Worse government is intruding further into our lives on a daily basis. Worse still, we just elected a President and further empowered a legislative branch that clearly admires European style social engineering exemplified by this issue.

  5. Dr. V, in “a step in the right direction” news, KS has passed direct shipping and other wine liberalization in a bill which takes effect July 1. Here in KC, I couldn’t be happier about that.

  6. “Enforcing what?,” is the question. What kind of disclaimer would bloggers have to place regarding their wine reviews?

  7. And a serious step in the wrong direction…

    If an industry is doing well state and federal governments, particularly CA government, see an opportunity to skim the till. The wine industry generates approximately $52B for the CA economy but its time to pay up. Fascinating! What a ruse. I am sure $1.84B will be used efficiently and effectively for the people of CA. Can you say boondoggle?

  8. Larry,

    This will just make it even harder for Cali wines to compete, particularly at the lower price tiers. Sure, at the cult-level California wines have really done well. But I find that Cali wines fare poorly at several lower price levels. Fifty cents extra per bottle just makes them even less competitive. I don’t see how that can be good for the state.

  9. This is a very interesting issue and one that people should follow more closely. Does reviewing a product fall into the same category as advertising a product? This isn’t an issue about enforcing but one about advertising. There are strict regulations about wine, spirit, beer and tobacco advertising in most countries throughout the world and the question is should they apply to reviewers. In my opinion absolutely not, if a reviewer is honest and gives an accurate account of the product then there is a chance that the review could be negative and therefore decrease consumption.

  10. […] First time here? Check out the "site highlights," send in a question, subscribe to the latest posts by RSS, daily email, or free monthly updates by email (right sidebar). Thanks for visiting!SIPPED: disclosure The FTC has promulgated new guidelines that include disclosure of “material connections” (in cash or kind) for bloggers as of December 1. Should this apply to magazines, newsletters, or online magazines? Why not? As discussed previously, enforcement will be an issue. […]


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