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It's a tried-and-true segment for the morning talk show circuit -- an expert reviews and recommends a series of products, playfully chatting with the hosts along the way. The problem arises when said expert happens to be a paid endorser for one of the products.
The Federal Trade Commission, which has been cracking down on potentially misleading endorsements in advertising, said today that it had charged the home security giant ADT with misrepresenting paid endorsements as independent reviews. ADT set up three paid endorsers, one of whom calls herself "Safety Mom," for appearances as independent experts on such as NBC's "Today" in 2010 and 2011, according the FTC.
According to the complaint, ADT set up media interviews for its endorsers through a public relations firm and booking agents, often providing news outlets with suggested interview questions and b-roll video to accompany any coverage. ADT's paid endorsers, who received more than $300,000 to promote a service called ADT Pulse, were billed as experts in child safety, home security or technology. Two of ADT's endorsers also received a free ADT Pulse security system, along with free monthly monitoring.
In exchange, the FTC said, ADT's spokespersons appeared on more than 40 different TV and radio programs, the commission said.
"It's hard for consumers to make good buying decisions when they think they're getting independent expert advice as part of an impartial news segment and have no way of knowing they are actually watching a sales pitch," said Jessica Rich, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "When a paid endorser appears in a news or talk show segment with the host of that program, the relationship with the advertiser must be clearly disclosed."
Under an agreed-upon settlement, ADT is prohibited from misrepresenting paid endorsements as independent reviews in the future.
An ADT spokeswoman said the company has a "tough disclosure policy" that follows the FTC's endorsement guidelines. "That's why we are happy to have resolved the matter amicably, and why we are willing to commit publicly to maintain that policy," the spokeswoman said. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the appearance of "Safety Mom" on "Today." A request for comment from Allison Rhodes, the Safety Mom, was not returned by press time.