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Sundance Vacations and Travel Advantage Network Case Study

Sundance Vacations and Travel Advantage Network sell vacation packages. This is a case study of their marketing practices, side by side with FTC Truth in Advertising standards.

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Sundance Vacations and Travel Advantage Network Case Study

  1. 1. Write a Review, Get Money Back!- Connecting the DotsA quick overview of some FTC AdvertisingEndorsement guidelines and how they wererecently specifically extended to online reviews.Then a step-by-step case study of SundanceVacations endorsement practices.
  2. 2. What is Astroturfing?Wikipedia’s definition of astroturfing:“Astroturing refers to political, advertising or public relations campaignsthat are designed to mask the sponsors of the message to give theappearance of coming from disinterested, grassroots participants.Astroturfing is designed to give the statements the credibility of anindependent entity by withholding information about the source’s financialconnection.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing
  3. 3. What Does the FTC Think of Astroturfing?Copy and Paste from FTC Site:Suppose you meet someone who tells you about a great new product.It performs exactly as advertised and offers fantastic new features.Would that endorsement factor into your decision to buy the product? Probably.Now suppose you learn that the person works for the companythat sells the product – or has been paid by the company to toutthe product. Would you want to know that when you’reevaluating the endorser’s glowing recommendation?You bet. That common-sense premise is at the heart of the revised Endorsement Guides issued by the FederalTrade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumerprotection agency.http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking
  4. 4. What Does the FTC Think of Astroturfing? In 2009 the FTC revised their “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” It was the first time they’d updated this guide in 29 years and it specifically addressed social media. From the FTC: "The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed." http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm
  5. 5. What Does the FTC Think of Astroturfing? Question :Why did the FTC revise its Endorsement Guides to include social media? FTC Answer: The FTC revised the Guides because truth in advertising is important in all media – including blogs and social networking sites. The FTC regularly reviews its guides and rules to see if they need to be updated. Because the Endorsement Guides were written in1980, they didn’t address social media. The legal principles haven’t changed. The FTC revised the examples to show how these standards apply in today’s marketing world.http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking
  6. 6. What Does the FTC Think of Astroturfing? Question: My Facebook page identifies the company I work for. Should I include an additional disclosure when I talk about how great our products are? FTC Answer: It’s a good idea. People reading that discussion on your Facebook page might not know who you work for and what products the company makes. And many businesses are so diversified that readers might not realize the products you’re talking about are sold by your company.http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking
  7. 7. What Does the FTC Think of Astroturfing? "If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.” – FTC http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement- guideswhat-people-are-asking
  8. 8. Sundance’s Review IncentiveA Sundance advertisement:Write a review online, be enteredInto weekly raffle, winner refundedtheir $99 processing fee.Specifically directs people to Google,Yahoo, Facebook, Yelp or yourown personal blog.The attached directions specificallyinstruct clients to like their facebookpage.
  9. 9. Sundance Vacations Facebook Page • No mention of the promotion, no disclosure of the promotion • You will not find negative comments. Negative comments are deleted. http://www.facebook.comSundanceVacations?
  10. 10. 2/13/13Just another day over at the SundanceVacations Facebook Page… VP Biz Dev for Sundance Public Co-Owner Becky from Shamokin. Can’t find much else out. That’s what google is for… Remember her.
  11. 11. What Happens When IGoogle Becky?
  12. 12. 2/15/13 – Sundance Facebook PageFrom Shamokin Becky, Marketing office manager, Shamokin Office. Becky Mentions “Our.” Just remember her for now.
  13. 13. 2/15/13 – Sundance Facebook PageI wonder if shewon back her$99 processingfee. I’m telling you. Remember her!
  14. 14. 1/30/13 – What’s a VPoint Back on January 30th, Tina, Co-Owner of Sundance had commented about giving an employee 2,000 Vpoints for their “community involvement.” That got me thinking, what’s a Vpoint? That got me to googling, and I found…
  15. 15. The VPoints Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/V Points? See, I told you to remember her. Hey look! It’s Candy.
  16. 16. So What is a VPoint?VPoints is an employee incentive program where employees are given “vpoints” whichthey can redeem for material rewards. How do you get VPoints at Sundance? We don’tknow, but we do know, from Tina’s post on their Facebook page (co-owner), that one wayto get them is online “community involvement.”The VPoints Facebook page is inundated with Sundance, Tri-State (a SundanceCompany) and Mid-Atlantic Capital (another Sundance company) employees. Manytimes, the very same ones posting reviews on the Sundance Facebook page.Hmmm…That got me to more googling….
  17. 17. VPoint – Slimdog – Sundance. VPoints “Chris” Sundance Vacations Slim-Dog-C LLCVPoints corporate headquarters are listed as Baltimore. There’s a link at the bottom oftheir site saying “copyright slim-dog-c llc.”So I google “slim-dog-c llc” and it’s located at the same address in Baltimore as VPoints,and owned by a Chris.http://companies.findthecompany.com/l/9470713/Slim-Dog-C-Llc-in-Baltimore-MDThe same Chris (at least according to the last name) that was on Sundance Vacations ITTeam as detailed in this 2009 blog post:http://blog.sundancevacations.com/sundance-vacations-corporate-headquarters/sundance-vacations-experiences-a-may-day/
  18. 18. Now It Makes Sense…That’s why the Vpoints page is inundated by only Sundance affiliated employees.
  19. 19. Remember Her?Here she is givinganother ravingreview, but this timefor the rewards shereceived fromVPoints, Sundance’semployee incentiveprogram.You have to be an employee to participate in an employee incentive program. There was nodisclosure on any of her positive reviews about Sundance vacations and Sundanceproperties on Sundance Vacations’ Facebook page.In fact, had I not stumbled upon the VPoints page, I would have never known she was inany way connected to Sundance, the company she was giving positive reviews for.Psssst….recognize the two names that liked her post? Two Sundance employees.
  20. 20. Connect the DotsFrom the presented evidence -1. Sundance does not disclose on their Facebook Page that they award refunded $99 processing fees for reviews on their Facebook Page2. Sundance employees routinely comment on their Facebook Page about how great Sundance is and how great their Sundance Vacations are – sometimes disclosing they’re an employee, sometimes not.3. According to Sundance’s own statements, VPoints are rewarded to their employees for online “community involvement.” A quick comparison of the Sundance and VPoints pages will clearly show the employees giving positive reviews on the Sundance Vacations Facebook page, are often the very same employees commenting about the rewards they received with their VPoints.
  21. 21. What Does the FTC Think of Astroturfing?Copy and Paste from FTC Site:Suppose you meet someone who tells you about a great new product.It performs exactly as advertised and offers fantastic new features.Would that endorsement factor into your decision to buy the product? Probably.Now suppose you learn that the person works for the companythat sells the product – or has been paid by the company to toutthe product. Would you want to know that when you’reevaluating the endorser’s glowing recommendation?You bet. That common-sense premise is at the heart of the revised Endorsement Guides issued by the FederalTrade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumerprotection agency.http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking
  22. 22. One More Thing to Mention…I have too much time on my hands, and spent too muchof it connecting these dots.Your average consumer does not.In fact, many consumers checking the SundanceVacations page are doing so on their mobile device,while they’re sitting at a table being told by a salesperson how great a $15,000 vacation package is, thatthey can ONLY buy that night.How much time do you think they have to connect thedots?
  23. 23. Thank You for Time“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

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