Episode 37: FTC lays review fine groundwork; Amazon creates offline Xmas catalog; Google Lens surfaces Local Packs

FTC lays groundwork for review fines with 700 companies IF they violate rules; Amazon creates a stealth XMAS toy offline catalog that is barely branded; Google Lens surfacing Local Packs with product shots

Episode 37: FTC lays review fine groundwork; Amazon creates offline Xmas catalog; Google Lens surfaces Local Packs
Photo by Vanessa Bucceri / Unsplash

Part 1 Video Starts 0:13 - FTC Advises 700 large business to follow endorsement guidelines or suffer heavy fines

Part 2 Video- Starts 8:35 - Amazon sends a stealth XMAS toy catalog to most of America

Part 3 Video- Starts 15:13 - Google Lens now surfacing the Local 3 pack when presented with a product shot

Reference Articles:

  1. FTC Puts Hundreds of Businesses on Notice about Fake Reviews and Other Misleading Endorsements

2.  List of October 2021 Recipients of the FTC’s Notice of Penalty Offenses Concerning Deceptive or Unfair Conduct around Endorsements and Testimonials

3. Google MUM brings multimodal search to Lens

Transcript: EP 37

Greg: welcome back everybody to the near memo episode bump bump bump 37 amazingly, although 36 is not yet up Mike, in your absence.

Greg: It's it's in the can, but we have to still get it up anyway, episode 37, and we're very excited and pleased to have special guests. Claire, Kyle Lyle, from a bright local and Claire car Carlisle, uh, marketing, uh, dual identity.

And of course there's always Mike Blumenthal. David Mim is, uh, joining, uh, Jeff Bezos and William Shatner in space. And so that's why he's not here today. Um, no, I don't know. What do you know? He's on vacation, I think. Right. Okay. Yeah. Okay. Um, at any rate, so we're here to talk about search, social and commerce is always, and we have, um, uh, always too many things that we want to get to, but we can only pick three and we're going to start with, uh, Mike and the federal trade commission's S S somewhat surprising action this week.

Um, tell us what they did. So

Mike: they put advertiser on notice that only honest opinion. Uh, are legitimate. They create, they mail 700 leading companies, tech companies, uh, apple, Google, Yelp, uh, Comcast, and a range of others, Ford motors, and advise them of the rules around testimonials and, um, uh, endorsers endorsements.

And a lot of people took it to mean that these companies had said. You know, violated FTC rules. If you read the notices carefully, essentially this allows, this is sort of the first salvo going forward. And it, all it does is it'll. Since they've put these companies on notice, if any, one of them were ever to violate the rules, they would then be eligible for fines.

Without this notice, the FTC would have been basically. Uh, handcuffed into just a, uh, risks, lap, or limited to just a risk slip. Whereas now they can find them for $37,000 or something. Um, 43,000 750, 90 $2 per violation. So now they're able to give fines. So it's basically administrative housekeeping that gives teeth to their.

Enforcement around reviews. It really doesn't mean anything about these 700 companies. They just picked 700 big companies that are, you know, that might possibly at some point in the future violate the rules. So it's more of a administrative thing than it is.

Greg: It's sort of prophylactic in a certain way

Mike: then.

Yeah. Pretty good companies on notice that not only are they watching, but that they can be fined as well if they were to violate these. So I,

Greg: I took it to mean that there was some suspicion or some potential, um, uh, Transgression going on at these companies. I mean, what's cool was Google

Mike: on the list on the list.

Um, but they made it quite clear in the, on the form. They said, um, notice a penalty offenses. In other words, they were just notifying of the types of offenses. They're concerned about notices of penalty offenses concerning deceptive or unfair content around endorsements and testimonies. The effect that a company.

On this list is not an indication that has done anything wrong. This is at the top of the list. So it really is just the biggest guys in the country. The biggest companies, the most heavily used, they're just putting them on notice that not only will the endorsement rules be enforced, but there will be financial penalties as a result.

Historically, there haven't been this results in that Sandy Riley ruling. So we in 2019, where they caught Sandy around the dead to rights and all they were able to do is slap. Because it was his

Greg: decision. Well, it's interesting. Why wouldn't you put every big brand in the country on notice then if this is merely a, a, um, a notification that you better be careful, why wouldn't you just send this out to everyone?

You know, fortune 500, every big brand. Everybody. Why, why, why, why these 700? I mean, this is not the,

Mike: well, this is the second time in two weeks, they've done this last week, two weeks ago, they did it to educational institutions, private education institutions, which have a long history of abuse. So I believe that they are targeting types of companies in certain industries where it's more calm or the practice is more.

But again, there is no indication. I know a lot of people thought it was like the first shot across the bow and enforcement. It is basically from where I sit and mystery thing that gives them more power going forward. It's not as exciting as it first appeared.

Greg: Yeah, definitely not. So, Claire, what about in the UK with, with fake reviews?

I mean, there's a, there's a enormous problem in this, in this kind of. And it exists globally, but it has the government done any, any, anything to your knowledge, to, to crack down on review fraud at all.

Claire: Thanks for springing that on me, Greg. That's awesome. I know so much about. Um, well, if,

Greg: if you

Mike: can't make it up, you can make it up.


Claire: no, I don't know much about the legality side of stuff, but I do know that it comes up quite often and particularly covered in the news. There was the BBC piece about the guy who was the auto dealer that was saying his business had been ruined by fake reviews. So it sort of bubbles to the surface. Um, in the media.

And then I know that all of his reviews were removed by Google, but I'm not sure, um, in terms of what the, the legalities of the system in the UK. Cause, um, it's not something that I see a lot of. And when I do, it's very small scale because of the types of businesses that I work with and we just tackle it directly.

Greg: Right. So, so, um, uh, I've written a report on this, which, which was done in conjunction with a company called the transparency company was the only it was we, we looked at, um, Google. I'm not going to reveal the data now, but we looked at Google Yelp, uh, Facebook and TripAdvisor in the U S and then in London to identify what percentage of reviews across 19 different business categories, where we're assessing.

And, um, you know, it basically represents millions of reviews. And so it's quite an extensive problem that, um, you know, hopefully the FTC is starting to address in earnest with this, with this, uh, with this move. Um, Mike Guinea, anything else you want to say? I mean, it was, it's disappointing that it's not a, uh, a more aggressive, uh, uh, move on their party.

Mike: It is aggressive though, because it gives them the ability to chart. It's $43,792 per occurrence, which means any company that does it, let's say they create a hundred fake reviews. We're talking half a million dollars, right? So it has the potential to have an impact. Um, although the companies that are likely to be cheating are likely not on this list.

This list included a lot of upstanding companies, but we'll see maybe they, they seeded the list with a hundred. People that we knew were cheating and the other 600 were just camouflage. I have no hair.

Greg: There's gotta be some cheaters on the list. I would imagine

Mike: one would think so with 700 games,

Greg: Google, Google is an interesting case here because Google has millions of fake reviews on, on, you know, on its site.

And Google's on this. But under section two 30 of the communications decency act, they're not liable for those, those reviews, right. In a pro and I guess in a, in any kind of, uh, uh, private action, but this is, this is a regulatory context. So maybe that wouldn't supersede any way out of my area of, of knowledge here.

Mike: It doesn't seem to impact section two 13 anyway, you know, but we'll see it's it's part and parcel of their ongoing. To create tighter rules, clear communication around those rules and stronger enforcement, but it is just one of those building blocks. It's not anything significant.

Greg: So that's, that's all good.

So I have a, I have a prop for my item here today, which is the, the Amazon, uh, toy curated toy catalog, which was mailed out a direct mail piece. Um, Amazon is on the back and it's also up here in the corner and then there's a URL here, but it's really. And inside the catalog is, um, our toys, uh, various brands.

And there's also, um, for those that haven't seen it, let me find a page. Um, there's also QR codes here that you can scan, which will take you to the relevant page, uh, on Amazon, where you can buy the toys. So it's pretty interesting on multiple levels. And I didn't even realize Mike, you brought it up earlier in the week and I didn't even realize it was an Amazon catalog.

We had received it and I had had recognized it, but I didn't. Um, I didn't, I didn't, it didn't enter my mind that this was from Amazon and you wouldn't necessarily know that by looking through it, the, the Amazon logo doesn't really appear inside the catalog. So it looks just like a, a retailer's catalog that you might get at, you know, holiday time.

And it's, it's quite interesting to me because of. The, the fact that Amazon is putting this, putting this out, the idea that, um, we, and as we just mentioned before, we started that this may be advertising for them. It's not clear, but maybe there's a paid placement aspect to this. And then also the online and offline component with the QR codes where you can, you can scan the code and go directly to Amazon.

Mike: I know the same thing to me is that it's so heavily curated, which I can't find anything on Amazon. I mean, Uh, my shopping patterns are to go to someplace like the wire cutter read review, and then go to Amazon to buy it. But I can never find stuff on Amazon when I'm looking for a new product category.

So this is very heavily curated, well, laid out easy to see. Obviously I bought children's toys in the past for friends, but I'm not a prime candidate for it, but I got it anyways. Well, in

Greg: Canada, the plugs are enormously expensive to produce. I mean, the, you know, you, you have to have it. They're costly. T for just the production of them and then the mailing costs.

So, I mean, imagine, you know, millions of these going out it conceivably. So there's, Amazon has spent a lot of money on this and minimized its brand, which is, which is very interesting because one of the values of direct mail catalogs is the branding value that, that, that companies get out of it.

Typically people will get a catalog go online and do do shopping. You know, nobody really buys on the phone anymore or whatever sends snail the form in through the mail. So it's, it's, it's, it's very curious on multiple levels. It's also sort of an offline presence in a certain way for Amazon. I mean, Amazon now has stores.

I don't know, in the UK they've got, um, uh, in, in the U S there's a, of course, whole foods. Then there's Amazon books. There's the four star store. And, um, the Amazon goes to Amazon go stores, and then there was the discount retailing, uh, sort of thing that they were talking about. It's what exists in the UK.

I know whole foods exists. Does the Amazon books exist?

Claire: Uh, yes. So, because I live in the middle of nowhere, I don't really know anything about retail experiences, but I just seen that there is an Amazon shop in blue water, which is a massive shopping center in the year. Uh, but aside from that, I don't know much about Amazon apart from buying things online and then pretending I didn't buy them from Amazon.

Mike: You had a comment earlier, Claire, about the layout of the catalog.

Claire: Yeah. I think that the, the front cover, uh, what you were saying about the fact that Amazon, you know, it's not, uh, it's not really carrying any well-known AMS and branding. It looks very folksy. So it looks like it's trying to hit a particular needs.

Um, so I think that's quite interesting. I can't see what it is. Not really carrying that type of, um, illustration on the inside is a lot more traditional, isn't it? The inside of the catalog. Um, but you can imagine, you can imagine that if, uh, the QR codes are linking through to those product pages and then, um, how valuable that would be in terms of like related products in that particular niche, it seems like it's hitting.

Like I said, I haven't seen the prolapse in it, but in terms of curation, you know, what, what type of products they look like? High quality, top-end educational, creative play a

Greg: little, a little bit of that. I mean, it's a lot. So there's Barbie. Um, there's, there's a lot of, sort of, um, what I would call Harry Potter.

Um, there's, there's both creative play and then kind of more traditional Thomas. The tank engine is in here. Um, some, some, some outdoor sports stuff, but it's, it's, um, Lego it's, it's sort of major brands, major toy brands. It looks like,

Claire: well, I know that my, my child reads a toy cat catalog at bedtime and she'll go through it's it's not fake.

And don't, if I'm allowed to say. Um, but it's very popular with her. So, uh, I can imagine that it'd been quite a hit with kids. Well,

Greg: so that's interesting. I hadn't thought about that. Do you think that this is designed specifically to appeal to possibly?

Claire: I mean, I know that she would enjoy looking at the, uh, the stuff in there.

Greg: Yeah. It's, it's, it's just, I'm just really struck by the, by the, by the way, in which Amazon, I mean, I hadn't even noticed this package on the back of the. You know, that has the little Amazon smiling logo. I hadn't even noticed that it's just, it's, it's really striking. Then Amazon has chosen to play down its brand in this.

Um, and I just can't figure out why that would be. It's a, it's a mysterious, um,

Claire: perfect. Maybe secret shoppers like myself that, you know, wouldn't usually use them. Cause then it's dumbing down the Amazon and, and, and looking at something else, like S I don't.

Greg: So it looks like we've lost the V the video on Claire, but we can still hear you.

So let's,

Mike: we're still recording too. It should be recording locally, so we'll

Greg: okay. Great. Okay. Terrific. All right. Well, it's, it's, you know, most people have quite a favorable impression of Amazon. Believe it or not. I mean, we may be profoundly ambivalent about the company, but the, but the survey data shows that people are pretty positive about Amazon.

So it's, it's, it's just a curious, Um, for, for moving on to, um, to Claire now that I can't see Claire, but I'm moving on to, to, uh, what I think is maybe the most interesting thing that, that happened this week from a local search perspective. Um, you, you discovered something, um, in using Google lens that, that we'd like you to talk about.

So just tell us, tell us about what that was.

Claire: Yeah. So I was, um, Working on a deck about images in Google, my business. And I was just generally thinking about the importance of, um, images for a business, particularly when they upload them into Google my business. In the context of, you know, this is, uh, letting Google know about what you do and what you sell, and also people know about what you do and what you sell.

And then I started, um, thinking a bit about visual search and how we can make decisions about what we want to buy just from taking photos. And then, um, I tried to, I went to in particular to trigger a three pack via a Google lens search. So I found that when you make a Google lens search, so it gives you various options.

But when sometimes it says search at the top, which appears above similar products and then visual matches. So you make, um, a certain. Um, in that for some products, particularly products where Google was picking up a lot of text from that image, um, it was triggering a three pack. So the example that, um, that I gave was for some headphones and then it gave me, um, a three, a three.

Um, which showed many in terms of justifications. I had, um, a website justification in the, in the, in the top listing. And then I had a couple of see what's in store, uh, justification's underneath. So it was quite interesting to think that using Google lens and then going on to make a cert without upending that search with a near me, modifier could trigger a three pack.

And I think that's useful to know for all sorts of things.

Greg: Was there. Was there any, did you S did you see on the other, on the page, was there any, um, uh, shopping results sort of e-commerce results?

Claire: That was everything on the page? Basically, it was a very, very busy SERP. So there was, um, a lot of the time I found that I would be getting a product knowledge panel with, with all of the Belgium.

Um, and then I continue to scroll down and then like suddenly there was a three-pack and I didn't really expect to see it, but I'm seeing that, um, across, you know, I haven't tested massively, but I I've seen it a couple of times, um, specifically with electronics.

Greg: Yeah. What's, what's really interesting is the, the, the, the fact that they took an image and then they gave you locations where you could, where they assumed or, or Newton.

That the, that the inventory was in store in real time. I mean, that, that to me is really fascinating. And, and Mike, you had some thoughts about how this is part of the evolution of Google's use of images. And

Mike: we've been talking about this for a long time, just that Google has been obviously applying their artificial intelligence to images for the last five years with increasingly relevant results to the user query.

Um, Where, if you typed in engagement, rings and Williamsville, you'd see local packs with engagement rings, but if you typed in earrings way as well, you then see the same local pack businesses with earring showing. So they show it there. They're also started showing it in organic mobile results. Um, and then I think it was two weeks ago at.

Okay, Google on event or to search on event. Uh, they talked about coming enhancements to Google lens where not only can you put a picture in like Claire did, but you can add a modal query to it so that you can enhance the image. So let's say, show me socks with patterns like these socks, and you actually include the image.

So it's moving from just delivering results to actually using the images as part and parcel of the query. Clara's example. And I see that as an ever-increasing sort of emphasis of Google,

Claire: I thought it was also interesting. It might not be interesting to you, but it was new to me. I read through the Google lens pages and they were talking about how, um, visual search is tied to location.

And they were very clear on that. Like, you know, the location of the searcher has it, has it, has it. A big impact on the results that we will give. So, you know, they're tied. So that's, so

Greg: that's, that's, that's very interesting. I mean, one of, one of, you know, one of the things that Google is trying to do to compete with Amazon and product search is trying to provide local inventory, which Amazon doesn't do.

Right. And so Google is sort of biasing the results in favor of that in a way, because how would they know if you were looking for Sony headphones that you didn't want to buy those online? I mean, they're sort of making the sensors. That you want to get those locally, which is an interesting thing. I mean, they're giving you everything, they're giving you the option to buy it online, but they're, but they're privileging those local results.

It seems like which is, which is, I think interesting.

Mike: It is very interesting because it's their main competitive advantage against Amazon. So they made merchant center free. So they got more, they partnered with Shopify and Wu to be able to get more and more products. They're bringing products into GMB.

So they're, they're focusing on local inventory as. As their way forward against the BMS. That is Amazon. I think it's picking up.

Greg: So, so let's, so let's get, let's look at the catalog cover again. No, I'm kidding. Um, let's, let's, let's get a little bit tactical clear. I mean, you had some thoughts before we started about what marketers should do to take advantage of this, you know, to, to the extent that they can.

Um, what, what is your advice

Claire: be aware that this is, um, You know, when we think about how people search and there was all the who holler about voice search, and then it didn't really turn into anything in terms of, we necessarily need to change our behavior massively as marketers. Um, but a big shift in visual search in terms of how consumers search those mean that we need to change our behavior as marketers, because we need to make sure we have the right images and we've optimized them in the right way that they load quickly, that they look good on a range of devices.

Um, so we just need to pay much more attention to our, um, images and also how we are, um, feeding details about the products and services that we offer into all the different places that Google can pull justifications and information from.

Mike: And just to reinforce that Joy's article several weeks ago in Joel's presentation at local, you both indicated.

The value of these images, isn't just within Google GMB, but on the website as well, that Joy's article indicated that you would see ranking gains by including these images, these product relevant images, or service relevant images on the webpage that seemed to help as much or more in terms of rank.

Whereas the images on Google help in terms of conversion, uh, and both, and Joel's talk. We basically came to the same conclusion, just as a note, I am a consultant with air.cam, which is focusing on local photos. So I have, uh, I have skin in this game because I think it's so important. So just for full disclosure, not to violate any FTC guidelines.

Greg: I think you are Mike. I think that is, you'll be getting one of those notices in the mail and a $43,000 fine or whatever it is, as

Mike: long as it's transparent about it, it's

Greg: not, but it's not a fault. It's not fraud. It lacks the, the deceptive element cause you disclosed. But, um, well, so, so just, just a quick question on, on how you, you know, if you're a big, if you're a big brand, a big retailer or are manufactured.

You've got product images all over the place. You've got your merchant feed and you've got, you know, your products all over the website. You're doing e-commerce, but if you're a smaller merchant or service business, you know how you, you can't take pictures of everything conceivably. How do you know which, which images to choose?

Which ones to select?

Mike: Can I, can I give a first stab at this? So Google's vision, AI, tough, uh, vision, Google vision. AI has a. Service where you can drop an image to see how Google understands an image. And this is a feature that air.cam has built into their products. And when they send a photographer on site, they set up, uh, based on the keywords that are important to the business, based on the services and products important to the business, they set up a shot list, and then when the shots come in and they match it against how Google understands the shot, do they see the shot as a dentist or do they see it?

Medical goods. And, and so you can identify your primary areas of activity, and then you can match those images against Google's understanding of that activity. So you take your six or seven most important things and make sure you have images that glue understand is part of that.

Greg: Well, what about, what about a retailer though? What about a retailer? I mean, I understand if you're a, you know, if you're a landscape designer or something, you can have a portfolio of work that you've done that represents the kinds of things that you do. But, but if you're, if you're a small retailer, let's use the toy toy example toy store, right.

So if you're an independent toy retailer and you've got hundreds of toys in your store, I mean, I suppose you could be on Tik TOK all the time or Instagram and figure out which toys are popular, if that's even where toys are making their appearance these days. But how do you, how do you know which of your products to, to, to photograph and to, to try and promote, you know,

Mike: So I, I would, I want to hear from Claire, I want to hear a tough Claire, Claire,

Claire: I kinda thing.

I'd be focusing on the things that are most important to the business. So they already get the best return and revenue, but then I'd be looking at, you know, I think it's important to, to monitor what's happening from a sort of zeitgeisty perspective to understand what the, the new things in the market are.

You know, is it natural toys? And then making sure that you have good photos, um, that can be, you know, applied it, you know, category level, it's evergreen, you know, you're always going to need images of these types of things rather than matching it one-to-one to a type of product.

Greg: Right. And you'll know what your sales volume is.

So, so now.

Mike: Well, I was going to something similar to what Claire said. Basically your product inventory is going to be stock photography, but your custom photography for the website and the top 10 images in GMB should be these high level conceptual. Evergreen categories that will continually show up in search to both reinforced conversions at GMB and to rank higher on your website.

So the local landing page should have your top three or four or five images. And then your category pages should have category images that are locally and specific to your business. And then your product feed to Google should be just the product feed of that particular thing. Then you're covering all of your basis.

Greg: Okay. On that note, on that, that helpful advice. Tactical note we'll conclude today. Thanks Claire Carlisle for stepping in for David man. We'd love to have you back at some future point. Um, it's yeah. And, um, as always, thanks for listening. Uh, sign up for our newsletter@nearmedia.co and, uh, we'd love to hear your feedback on anything you want to talk about.

Mike: Thank you for joining.