In a Federal Trade Commission notice published last week, the agency warned the advertising industry that penalties could be coming for the use of deceptive endorsements.  The FTC not only released the notice, but it also sent a letter (a version of which is available here) to hundreds of businesses (a list is here) – advertisers, advertising agencies, and a few media companies – reminding them of the FTC’s concerns about deceptive endorsements in advertising.  While the FTC makes clear that this list of recipients of the letter does not indicate that any of them did anything wrong, it does make clear that the FTC takes this issue very seriously and wants to highlight the issue for the entire advertising ecosystem.  The letter reminds businesses that violations can lead to fines of up to $43,792 per violation and other penalties.

What are the FTC concerns?  The FTC said that prohibited practices “include, but are not limited to: falsely claiming an endorsement by a third party; misrepresenting whether an endorser is an actual, current, or recent user; using an endorsement to make deceptive performance claims; failing to disclose an unexpected material connection with an endorser; and misrepresenting that the experience of endorsers represents consumers’ typical or ordinary experience.”  In other words, when an endorser says something about a product, the FTC is expecting that the endorser used the product and the statements that it makes about the product are accurate and reflect what consumers can expect from that product.  This is not the first time that the FTC has raised these issues.
Continue Reading FTC Reminds Advertisers That Deceptive Endorsements in Advertising Can Lead to Penalties

It’s the holiday season, and many of us are turning our thoughts to celebrating with friends and family. It is also high season for shopping, which means the airwaves, social media, websites and print pages are full of opportunities to buy, sell, and advertise. Whether you consider that to be a feature or a bug,

On December 1, 2009,  FTC revised Guidelines went into effect updating policies dealing with advertising using testimonials and endorsements, specifically affecting celebrity endorsements and sponsorship disclosure.  These revised guidelines directly impact the established practices of broadcasters and new media companies.  These revised endorsement and testimonial guidelines effectively ban the old standard “results not typical” disclaimer so commonly in use in connection with a great deal of testimonial advertising, confirm independent liability for the “endorser” (including celebrities) for false product or service claims, and expand and clarify the need for disclosure of “material connections”, that is consideration (money and other “freebies”) received by new media companies in connection with reviews or other online coverage of products or services.  It is vital that media companies, in particular new media, understand the key provisions of these guidelines to make sure that they don’t become a target of any FTC enforcement action.  The FTC has indicated that for now at least, its focus will be on enforcement in the new media world (bloggers, social media, viral campaigns) and other “non-traditional” advertising (celebrity guests on news and entertainment shows, endorsements by media personnel such as on-air DJ’s).

Like all FTC Guidance concerning advertising, the revised guidelines are specific regulations, but instead they set out standards (in essence a safe harbor) that outline how the FTC will review advertising to determine if it is “false and deceptive” or otherwise misleading to the consumer in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.  The revised guidelines provide specific examples as to how they will apply to insure sufficient disclosure so that the listener has all the background necessary to be able to evaluate the strength of the endorsement for him or herself.  For broadcast advertising, the new guidelines make clear that endorsers can themselves be liable for misleading statements made during a product pitch.  So a radio announcer paid to try a diet plan or some other product and to report about its results on the air needs to be sure not only that his statements are truthful, but that the “results” claimed are in line with what the advertiser can actually prove for the product through clinical study and research.  The radio pitchman cannot turn a blind eye to claims that are inherently incredible.  In the past, a simple disclosure that "your results may vary" or "these results are not necessarily typical" was sufficient.  Today, that disclaimer is no longer enough.  Instead, the new guidelines state that any testimonial about the results of using a product be accompanied with a disclosure of the results that a typical user can expect to get from the product.  So the announcer must be informed as to what results can be expected by the typical user, and that these results are objectively verifiable, so that the proper disclosure can be made.  As the announcer (or the station) can now be liable for statements made in such testimonials, stations should take care to be prepared to make the required disclosures. 


Continue Reading New FTC Guidelines on Endorsements and Sponsorship Disclosure – Broadcasters and New Media Companies Beware