June 18, 2024
Do your ads use endorsements or testimonials? The FTC’s endorsement guides establish guidelines for advertisers.

Say you meet someone who tells you about a great new product. Would their glowing endorsement factor into your decision to buy it? Maybe so. But what if you find out the person works for the company or has been paid to recommend the product. Wouldn’t you want to know that? That common-sense principle is at the heart of the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guides.

Hi, I’m Mary Engle, an attorney with the FTC, the nation’s consumer protection agency. If you advertise products or services to consumers – or if you’re involved in marketing using social media, blogs, affiliates, and the like – you should know about the Endorsement Guides.

The Guides have been around since 1980, but the FTC revised them in 2009 to include examples that reflect today’s marketing media. You’ll want to read the Guides for yourself, but they boil down to three basic concepts.

First, endorsements must be truthful and not misleading. They have to reflect the endorser’s actual experience and opinion. Furthermore, you can’t make claims about a product that require proof you don’t have. For example, you can’t say a product will cure a certain disease or cause weight loss if there isn’t scientific evidence to prove that’s true. If an endorsement is deceptive, both the advertiser and the endorser could be held responsible – so compliance is important.

Second, testimonials claiming specific results usually will be interpreted to mean the endorser’s experience is what other people can expect, too. It’s not enough to say “Results not typical” or “Individual results may vary.” That means advertisers have two choices: Have adequate proof to back up the results you show in an ad; or clearly disclose the results people can generally expect. How would that work? Well, say an ad features an endorsement from a woman who claims, “I lost 50 pounds in 6 months with WeightAway.” What if that was an exceptional case? If most people aren’t likely to get those results, the advertiser would have to clearly disclose what most people could expect in similar circumstances. For example, “Most women who use WeightAway for six months lose 10 pounds.”

Third, it’s the law – and it always has been the law – that a material connection between an advertiser and an endorser has to be disclosed. What’s a “material connection”? It’s a connection between the endorser and seller that could affect how people evaluate the endorsement. In other words, a connection that someone wouldn’t reasonably expect.

When the FTC revised the Endorsement Guides, that standard stayed the same, but the examples were updated to include blogs, social networks, and online discussions. The Guides now make it clear that the same standard applies across the board.

The Endorsement Guides won’t apply to most bloggers or people who use social networks. They’re just connecting with friends and family and talking about what’s going on in their lives. But if you’re part of a marketing program with an advertiser – and you’re getting paid or getting products or services in exchange for talking about a product – you need to disclose that relationship. It’s simple: “ABC Company gave me this product to try and here’s what I think.” This is about transparency – being upfront with people and making sure they have the straight story about a connection between an endorser and an advertiser.

To sum up, under the FTC Endorsement Guides:

– Endorsements have to reflect the truthful experience of the endorser;

– Endorsements cannot include claims about a product that require proof you don’t have; and

– If there’s a connection between an endorser and an advertiser, make sure it’s clearly disclosed.

For more information, read The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking, available at business.ftc.gov.

Questions? Send them to endorsements@ftc.gov . We’ll address the most common ones in future publications.

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