I got an email today from a social media analyst that said:
We’ve visited your site and based on the topics you cover, along with your knowledge and influence in the whisk(e)y and spirits world, we think you’d be a perfect candidate for our exclusive network, The Whisk(e)y Circle.And, well, you know me. I'll do anything for my readers.
The Whisk(e)y Circle is an interactive community for whisk(e)y fans and influencers. By becoming a member you will receive invitations to whisk(e)y tastings and whisk(e)y related events, as well as first-hand information and knowledge on products from many of the William Grant & Sons brands. You will also have the ability to share news and exclusive product information with your readers.
I went to the website, filled in the form (it asked for no information I minded sharing), and clicked the "Submit" button. In my thirst to improve your experience, dear Reader, I didn't pay much attention to the fact that the "Submit" button went on to say something about "and Connect Facebook." Not "Connect on" or "Connect through," just "Connect."
Which is accurate enough, since if you keep telling it yes it connects an app to your Facebook account and posts something to you timeline. I'm not sure what it posts, because that was the point where I stopped to think I should figure out what this whole thing is.
What the whole thing is is made plenty clear on the "Terms and Conditions" page. Here's Section 3:
3. Your Social Content: Tweeting & Posting, once selected as a memberSo if I join the Whisk(e)y Circle, obtain some quid from it, and mention that fact anywhere on the Internet, the pro quo is that I am obligated (to the extent this sort of thing obligates anyone) to also mention .. well, whatever they tell me to mention, starting with their hashtag, and ending with, who knows, maybe, "William Grant is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."
This section of the Terms applies to the extent you publish or post (e.g., online, including on a social media page) a review about us, our products, our events, or our services for your fans, followers, friends or patrons (a “Review” or a “Post”) as a NETWORK. A Review or Post may include something as simple as a Tweet, a comment, or a post on your social media pages, streams or feeds (even if just sharing a post created by William Grant & Sons, Inc.).
SAMPLING / GIFTING: SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS YOU MUST FOLLOW IF POSTING, REVIEWING OR TWEETING ABOUT WILLIAM GRANT & SONS, INC. SAMPLES:
If you choose to Review and/or Post, you must comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising [http://www.ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf], as revised.
This means, you must comply with the following endorsement requirements (“Requirements”):
- Include the <hashtag>WhiskeyCircle hashtag—in addition to any other content that we require—in all your Posts and Reviews as a NETWORK member. (There would be no need to do so, however, in instances where we advise you that this hashtag will automatically appear in your Review or Post.)
- Do not represent yourself as our employee, agent or representative of William Grant & Sons, Inc..
- Clearly and conspicuously disclose, in your Review or Post, your receipt of any free product or special offers that we give to you as a NETWORK member. This is in addition to including the <hashtag>WhiskeyCircle hashtag. Sample posts that you can use as a guide are available in the NETWORK FAQs. This may also require you to use a disclosure, verbatim, that we supply to you. (There would be no need to make such disclosures when we advise you that they will appear automatically in your Review or Post.)
- Base your Reviews, Posts, and related suggestions solely on your own personal experience and opinions, without allowing any direct or indirect connection with us to influence them.
- Be truthful, avoiding any false or misleading representations about us.
- If applicable, report in your Review or Post the manner in which you used the product (for example: “when using this product every day for [#] days, my results were [results]”).
- Avoid comparisons with any other company’s products in your Review or Post.
- Immediately remove any such Review or Post from your online site if we ask you to do so (based on a breach of these Terms).
Oh, and I'm also obligated to follow a bunch of other very curious rules, that would seem to apply more to, you know, paid advertisements than to personal blog posts or tweets.
And apparently there's something about this whole Whisk(e)y Circle thing that has made someone think that someone might be led to feel like they might be, without actually being, an employee, agent, or representative of William Grant & Sons, Inc. What might give rise to such a thought?
The whole thing stinks, to my mind. Obviously there's a business case -- crazy as it may be -- for any contact I receive on behalf of a whiskey company, whether it's a newsletter I signed up for, an email offering to send me a sample, a 75 cent Christmas present, a free personalized label, or an announcement of a tasting in a city near me.
But there's a difference, I think, between being marketed to and being marketed through. People who sign up for this will be acting, not as influencers and informers, but as cogs in an advertising machine. Their blog posts and tweets will become advertising copy, cleared by the company.
That strikes me as awfully expensive free whiskey.