FTC Guides for using testimonials

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FTC Guides for using testimonials

By Randy Gunter
Some time ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted a set of Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. The guidelines talk about celebrity endorsements, blogging endorsements, use of testimonials in general (including non-celebrities), and sponsored testing.

On the FTC website is a pdf document that you can read about it (81 pages), see the link at the bottom of this article. I’ve pulled out and summarized some components here that I think are of interest to advertisers and ad creators. 

I personally applaud these guidelines, I think any time we make ads less deceptive we help our stature as advertising professionals as well as make it better for legitimate businesses to prosper. 

Celebrity endorsements – basically the guidelines state that a celebrity must actually use and endorse the product in most circumstances. It also states that the celebrity can be held liable if misstatements are made. Previously, celebrities had some “safe harbor” that is no longer available. 

Typical results – any ad that uses an endorsement must represent a typical result of the product or service. A disclaimer stating “results not typical” or “results may vary” are not accepted and the ad could still be considered deceptive even when these types of disclaimers are made. (A lot of the examples on the FTC site talk about weight loss ads.)

“Sponsored speech” disclosure – anytime someone receives something of value, even a free sample, it could require that a disclosure is made in the ad or endorsement. This is particularly pertinent to bloggers as it also pertains to reviews of products or services. (Please note the word “could”, there are exceptions.) This even holds true if someone writes a post on someone else’s website or blog, if they are paid by the company that they are commenting about, they must disclose this relationship. 

Sponsored trials and studies – any study that is sponsored by the advertiser, even if conducted by a third party, the sponsorship must be disclosed. 

Use of “average person” – endorsements must be real (a real person that actually used the product) or there must be a disclosure to the contrary. This is particularly relevant to anyone that uses stock photos of people. If your copy represents that this is an actual person and makes a statement of some kind relating to that person and the product or service, but in reality they are really just a model or actor, you must reveal this fact. 

Actors playing an “average person” – if an ad uses actors that seem like an “average person”, this must be revealed. The example given is for a “hidden camera” ad where the viewer may assume that these are average people that just happen to be asked about a product, not paid actors. 

Independent testing – any mention of an organization endorsing or commenting on a product must be a real, bona fide, independent organization that actually has tested or otherwise substantiated any claims that are portrayed. It is deemed deceptive for a company to create an organization solely for the purpose of marketing a product.

Pertinent expertise – if an ad portrays or implies someone as an expert, they must actually be an expert in a relevant way. For instance, a hearing aid ad that uses a “doctor” within an ad would reasonably have a doctor with a relevant expertise in hearing and ear related healthcare, a non-medical doctor (e.g. an individual with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology) would not be accepted in this scenario. 

These are the components that I found most relevant and interesting to the typical ad maker or advertiser. 

Here are the FTC guidelines:

https://www.ftc.gov/policy/federal-register-notices/guides-concerning-use-endorsements-and-testimonials-advertising-16-1

And here are some Q&A from the site:

https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking

A disclaimer: I am not an attorney and I am not giving any legal advice. It is possible that I could misinterpret these FTC guides, so please do your own due diligence and learn how these new rules affect your business and your advertising.