Reverb Communications settled up with the FTC.Â The marketing company agreed to remove from the Internet all the iTune reviews that appeared to be written by run-of-the-mill app users but that had really been written by its very own employees. Â Reverb admitted nothing, noting that it could not agree with the FTC on the facts.Â However, Reverb could have taken a lesson from Hollywood.Â Fake reviews are nothing new.Â We have had them for movies. Actress Demi Moore starred in the 1995 movie, The Scarlet Letter,Â Â which was based on Nathaniel Hawthorneâ€™s book of the same name. Hollywood Pictures ran the following quote from a Time magazine review: â€œâ€˜Scarlet Letterâ€™ Gets What It Always Needed: Demi Moore.â€ The actual review by Time magazine read: â€œStuffy old Scarlet Letter gets what it always needed: Demi Moore and a happier ending.â€ A Time spokesman noted that the statement was clearly ironic. In the same review, the Time critic, Richard Corliss, referred to the movie as â€œrevisionist slogâ€ and gave it an â€œF.â€
An ad for the 1995 movie Seven quoted Entertainment Weekly as calling it a â€œmasterpiece.â€ The actual review read, â€œThe credits sequence ._._. is a small masterpiece of dementia.â€
A movie industry observer stated in response to these examples, â€œThe practice of fudging criticsâ€™ quotes [in ads] is common.â€Â Common, albeit not completely honest.Â The medium changes, but the ethical issues remain the same:
1. Â Did the person acually see the movie/use the app?
2. Is the person a real consumer or conflicted by loyalty to an employer?
3. Do those reading the reviews understand the true identity, context, and role of the reviewer?
4. There is a false impression!
5. This stuff comes out, sooner or later, and later is always worse because you are then grappling with the porblem as well as the loss of trust.
And the New York Times columnist, Randy Cohen, the ethicist, got it right when he answered a question about this very issue a few weeks back.Â There was flak, but Mr. Cohen was correct.Â The question was presented because not only is the practice commonÂ but many clients ask the marketing firms to push the envelope in their efforts online.Â Somehow the anonymity of the Internet results in ethical slippage.Â Â Mr. CoehnÂ answered the ethical question aptly and, it turns out, the legal question as well.Â The answer was the same because of FTC guidelines published last year on our blogging, tweeting, posting, etc.Â Ads are ads, regardless of the forum and truth in advertising has been with us since, well, merry old England.