Although it will be published in the Federal Register shortly, you can download and read the text of the Federal Trade Commission’s revised "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" issued earlier today, right on Legal Bytes now. As reported previously in Legal Bytes, the final revisions are intended to update the FTC’s guidance, last revised in 1980, that provide advice to advertisers and agencies regarding compliance with the FTC Act.
While the prior guidelines allowed advertisers to use a “results not typical” disclaimer, that is no longer a safe haven from liability, and advertisers will be required to disclose what a consumer should generally expect when purchasing or using the product. Furthermore, any connection that a consumer might not reasonably know between an advertiser and an endorser needs to be disclosed. In recent years, comments by bloggers, through word of mouth, buzz or viral marketing were never addressed in the Guides. The updated version now deals with and provides examples of when these rise to a level of connection requiring disclosure.. For example, if a blogger receives any consideration in cash or in kind (e.g., free gaming console to try) to review products or services, that would now be considered an endorsement that requires disclosure – even if the review remains unbiased.
The fact that a consumer should be informed about a material connection between the advertiser and the maker of the statements is now firmly embedded in the FTC Guides, even though these cases were always subject to review on a case-by-case basis. Of course, what constitutes a “material” connection will still be subject to a factual determination, but if a company, for example, sponsors research about its products or services (or potentially about the products or services of a competitor, if the results will be used in a comparative ad), then the company must disclose its sponsorship in the ad. Similarly, although consumers may expect celebrities to be paid for appearing in commercials, if an endorsement is made outside that context – for example, on a talk show, at a book signing, at a motion picture premiere, or on Facebook, Twitter or other social media – any material relationships must be disclosed.
The proposed new guidelines were the subject of a seminar, "Trust Me, I’m a Satisfied Customer: Testimonials & Endorsements in the United States", presented by Joseph I. Rosenbaum, at the University of Limerick in July. You can go to the previous Legal Bytes blog post and download a copy of the presentation at any time. "
Want to know more about the FTC Guides, or the implications to social media advertising and marketing, or traditional advertising? Feel free to contact me or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.