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Make sure your testimonials measure-up

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Do your website, marketing materials, or advertising include testimonials or endorsements? Have you recently tweaked your campaigns or collateral in advance of the busy spring season? If so, are you aware those statements must comply with guidelines established by the Federal Trade Commission?

BBB’s own “Code of Advertising” follows many of the tenets laid out by the FTC. Before a business can obtain accreditation, BBB staff review the applicant’s business website to look for inconsistencies and monitor it throughout the accreditation lifecycle.

With this in mind, it’s a great time to embrace self-regulation and do your own review. Here are several key points from the FTC’s guidelines on testimonials and endorsements.

  • Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser. The statement may not express or imply something that would be untrue or deceptive if stated by the advertiser.
  • If the endorsement is about how much Angieenjoys using” the product or service, Angie must be a user of the product at the time her statement was made. Additionally, display of Angie’s testimonial in advertising is acceptable only as long as she remains a user of the product.
  • An advertiser is not obligated to display a testimonial in the exact words of the endorser, so long as, the statement is not reworded, or taken out of context, to distort the original opinion or experience.

With permission, I reference a recent submission by Annie M. Ugurlayan, assistant director – Communications, National Advertising Division, Advertising Self-Regulatory Council:

“Testimonials and endorsements are a regular part of [NAD] ad review. The FTC’s Endorsements and Testimonials Guide provide guidance as to how businesses can appropriately use testimonials and endorsements (and to have substantiation for product claims that are in those testimonials and endorsements). But what if a testimonial is just an opinion – does that require support? Answer: maybe not, but it depends.

“Kraft challenged Unilever’s advertising for its Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup. Among other things, Kraft challenged a testimonial – “The Best Ketchup I’ve Ever Tried,” which appeared in advertising on retail shopping carts and shelves. The claim was accompanied by a disclaimer identifying the name of the testimonialist (“Nicci B.”), as well as explaining that the review was based a free product sample.

“Did this testimonial convey an objective claim concerning overall taste superiority? National Advertising Division (NAD) determined that it did not.

“A testimonial may contain statements of opinion that do not by themselves require claim support. Individual taste is subjective and a matter of personal opinion, however, claims that tout a product’s superior taste, consumer preference, or comparative taste attributes, which suggest a general, measurable preference – a message that the opinion is typical of all consumer opinions – require taste test evidence or other sensory analysis for support. In the Hellman’s advertising, NAD determined that the manner in which the testimonial is worded makes clear that it is a statement of opinion based on one consumer’s experience with the ketchup (“best ketchup I’ve ever tried”).

“In addition, the disclaimer explaining that the testimonial was made by a consumer who had received free product would not likely result in a consumer expecting their experience to be the same as the one described.

“As a result, NAD determined that this testimonial conveyed that it was an individual opinion and therefore did not convey a typicality message that required support.”

BBB was founded by businesses interested in self-regulating around truthful advertising. Ad review remains a core service.

Yet, advertisers that propagate false or unsubstantiated testimonials, or that fail to disclose material connections between themselves and endorsers, have far greater worries than BBB. Their actions are subject to FTC enforcement and liability.

If you have a question, or would like a complimentary review of your advertising, contact our office at 410-400-4BBB or yourbbb@greatermd.bbb.org. For the complete Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, refer to the FTC website.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.