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Recently, we here at ReviewTrackers talked about why business organizations should not “incentivize” online reviews. The reason is simple: it’s against the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines on the use of endorsements and testimonials – of which reviews are considered a form – in advertising.

To put it simply: you can’t pay customers to write reviews. And incentives, rewards, and discounts are, technically, a form of payment.

This week, an auto shipment broker called AmeriFreight learned how serious the FTC is about getting businesses to follow its guidelines. It’s a lesson on why you shouldn’t try to manipulate customer experience and opinion by rewarding those who say something positive. The FTC has approved a final consent order that stops AmeriFreight from deceptively touting its online reviews and failing to disclose the incentives the company provided to its reviewers.

“Companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If they fail to do that, as AmeriFreight did, then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”

Offering discounts to review writers a big no-no

According to reports, the Georgia-based automobile shipment broker had been giving consumers $50 discounts to get them to write positive reviews, while also offering these reviewers a chance to win an extra $100 if their review was selected as the winner of the “Best Monthly Review Award.”

Being able to generate positive reviews easily, AmeriFreight then touted these reviews, such as on its website, where the company claimed it had “more highly ranked ratings and reviews than any other company in the automotive transport business,” as well as in advertisements that read, “Google us ‘bbb top rated car shipping.’ You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.”

According to a report on Ars Technica, AmeriFreight was very aggressive with getting customers to write reviews. The company “actually added $50 to the cost for customers who wouldn’t write a review, (and) customers who didn’t agree up front to write a review on www.transportreviews.com, an independent website, had to check a box on an AmeriFreight form saying they agreed to be billed the extra $50.”

From now on, AmeriFreight will have to stop any future misrepresentations about its online reviews and customer experience; the company will also, for the duration of the FTC’s 20-year order, need to maintain records of all its advertisements, marketing messages, and related documents.

A spokesperson for AmeriFreight said that the mistake was honest, and that it implied no requirement that a review be positive for its writer to receive a discount. In a statement, the company said, “The intention has never been to deceive consumers by posting and promoting bogus reviews. There was no requirement that reviews needed to be positive only. Compensation was provided for good or bad reviews.”

Migs Bassig

Migs is the Content Manager for ReviewTrackers. He's a creative writer who has helped numerous companies communicate more effectively online, and he loves sharing his local marketing knowledge to help brands and business succeed.

Discussion

  1. Jason S

    People love to hear about other people’s experiences especially if they are planning to spend money on something. They equally hate feeling like their being lied to by paid shills.

    Reply
  2. New Bee

    This sort of demand for honesty is a big improvement over more traditional forms of media. It’s refreshing actually.

    Reply
  3. Benito Salvatore

    So, it turned out that they were paying for both good and bad reviews. All that mattered was to get review. Why is that so wrong? Anyone could write a bad review, but they did not write any, so they were satisfied and also got away with 50$. The lucky ones even got 150$ price cut. This is a nice way to attract customers and get the business going. I would approve this kind of approach always.

    Reply
  4. spameater

    Honestly, I don’t see why this is such a bad thing.They were paying for both good and bad reviews, so it is clear that they weren’t deceiving anybody – customers could simply write a review about their experience with the company and they would get a discount.According to me, that’s just a good way to advertise your own business.

    Reply
    • Fields of Clover

      The problem is that they were making people who were not satisfied enough to leave a review still post some bogus thing just to get the $50 “discount”. And I bet they conveniently “forgot” to mention that said reviews can be negative to be viable for a discount.

      Reply

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