A client recently got upset when I told her she needed to change her marketing tools (e.g., websites, social media profiles, and blogs) in order to comply with the updated FTC advertising rules on testimonials and endorsements. A die hard information marketer, she insisted that I was wrong. She said, “My coach—a very successful info marketer—told me those advertising rules don’t apply to me, because I’m not paying anyone to give me an endorsement.” “Plus,” she said, “I have ‘Results Not Typical’ everywhere on my site.” I told her that the information she’d been given was inaccurate, and that the FTC advertising rules, in fact, DO apply to her. As an information marketer, I said, you are exactly who the FTC is targeting.
She is not alone in having a vested interest in believing inaccurate information about the new FTC Rules on endorsements and testimonials. Many internet marketers want to believe that the internet rules, more specifically the advertising rules, don’t apply to them, because it means changing their business model. It means in some cases significantly altering the way they do business, which can dramatically affect their pocketbook. But like it or not, the FTC is serious about tracking down violators. Marketers who, through a variety of advertising mediums on the internet, disseminate false and misleading information about their products and services are the focus.
At a minimum, the FTC Rules require that an advertiser disclose any material relationship between it and an endorser, whether or not you paid them to endorse your product or service. A posting on your social media site, wiki, a blog, chat room, discussion board, forum, or any other internet venue may be considered an endorsement. Transparency through disclosure is key. Failure to comply can subject both the advertiser and the endorser to liability, particularly if the claims were unsubstantiated or in any way, misrepresented the product or service.
So what can you do to protect yourself:
- Take the FTC Rule on endorsements & testimonials seriously!
- Review all of your marketing materials with a view toward FTC Rule compliance
- Ask yourself, “could an endorsement of your product/service, when viewed objectively, be perceived, by consumers, as sponsored by you, therefore an advertisement?
- Disclose all “material connections” between the advertiser and endorser.
- Make sure you disclose in a conspicuous manner what the average consumer can expect to gain from use of your product/service
- Make sure you have reliable evidence of any claim made about your product/service
- Don’t rely on “Results Not Typical” to satisfy the FTC requirement, because it won’t (See Footnote 1, pg. 5, http://tinyurl.com/ygcmpfd
- Accurately represent customers expectations
- Review this FTC Rule pronouncement carefully, especially §255.2 if you use consumer testimonials (http://tinyurl.com/ygcmpfd)
- Consider hiring someone to help you interpret the New FTC rules in light of your product/service
Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groups, Google+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.