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The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: Being Up-Front With Consumers

Endorsements are an important tool for advertisers and they can be persuasive to consumers. But the law says they also have to be truthful and not misleading. The FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising are guidelines designed to help advertisers of all stripes – TV, print, radio, blogs, word-of-mouth marketing – make sure that they meet this standard. For example, advertisers are advised that using unrepresentative testimonials may be misleading if they are not accompanied by information describing what consumers can generally expect from use of the product or service. In addition, the Endorsement Guides let endorsers know that they shouldn’t talk about their experience with a product if they haven’t tried it, or make claims about a product that would require proof they don’t have. The Endorsement Guides also state that if there is a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed. The Guides are not regulations, and so there are no civil penalties associated with them. But if advertisers don’t follow the guides, the FTC may decide to investigate whether the practices are unfair or deceptive under the FTC Act.

The FTC revised its Endorsement Guides in October 2009 to keep them up-to-date with current marketing techniques, such as blogging and word-of-mouth advertising. The Guides point out that marketers using these new techniques are subject to the same truthful advertising laws that other forms of advertising always have been. That means, among other things, that marketers who are compensated to promote or review a product should disclose it.