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Testimonials at Risk

April 7th, 2009 No comments

Advertisers beware: the FTC is reviewing changes to its guidelines for testimonials and endorsements–the first such changes since 1980. If approved, they could impact everything from social media marketing to late-night TV ads.

The proposed changes, outlined in this lengthy legal document, seek to curb ads with testimonials that emphasize best-case scenario product performance without mentioning a product’s typical results.

“On the issue of consumer endorsements, the proposed revisions state that testimonials that do not describe typical consumer experiences should be accompanied by clear and conspicuous disclosure of the results consumers can generally expect to achieve from the advertised product or program,” according to a FTC press release.

That means ads like this weight loss ad that features a testimonial from a woman who lost 150 pounds, and 22 pounds in the first six weeks, would have to include a “clear and conspicuous” disclosure of the program’s typical results.

The Financial Times reported last week that the changes may also impact social media marketing and blogging:

“If a blogger received a free sample of skin lotion and then incorrectly claimed the product cured eczema, the FTC could sue the company for making false or unsubstantiated statements. The blogger could be sued for making false representations,” according to the article.

The changes may also impact spokesmen such as Subway’s Jared Fogle, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune.

However, the changes are not official–yet. The FTC’s commissioners are likely to vote by the end of the summer on whether to adopt or revise the amendments, said Betsy Lordan from the FTC Office of Public Affairs. Until then, you might want to plan a new strategy if your ads or blogging partners make high-flying product claims.