The starting point for all advertising as far as the United States Federal Trade Commission is concerned is that the advertising must be truthful and not mislead consumers.
As a marketer in the U. S. you must comply with the FTC’s truth-in-advertising standards generally.
Two Basic Requirements
The truth-in-advertising law boils down to two basic requirements:
- Advertising must be truthful and not misleading, and
- Before publishing an ad the advertiser must have adequate substantiation for each claim made or implied with respect to the product or service advertised.
According to the FTC, a deceptive ad is an ad containing a misrepresentation or omission that is likely to mislead consumers to their detriment.
When it comes to advertisers’ claims regarding foods, dietary supplements and drugs the FTC requires competent and reliable scientific evidence to support any claims made or implied by the advertiser.
According to the FTC it is the “net impression” conveyed by the ad to the consumer that is important. Both express claims and claims which are implied or suggested by the ad must be truthful and supported by adequate substantiation.
Here’s an example from the FTC guide related to the advertisement of dietary supplements:
Example 2: An advertisement for a vitamin supplement claims that 90% of cardiologists regularly take the product. In addition to the literal claim about the percentage of cardiologists who use the product, the ad likely conveys an implied claim that the product offers some benefit for the heart. Therefore, the advertiser must have adequate support for both representations.
Testimonials and Endorsements
Pursuant to the FTC rules, an advertiser may not make claims through consumer or expert testimonials that are deceptive or cannot be substantiated.
The fact that a testimonial represents an honest opinion expressed by the consumer is not sufficient to meet the FTC’s requirement. The advertiser is still required to have appropriate scientific evidence to support any claim made by the consumer in the testimonial.
Further, any consumer testimonials which contain statements about the efficacy or safety of a dietary supplement product must be backed by adequate substantiation that the experience contained in the testimonial is representative of what consumers will generally achieve when using the advertised product.
If the advertiser does not have substantiation to prove that the results contained in the testimonial are representative of what consumers generally will experience from the use of the product, then a clear and conspicuous disclaimer is required and the advertiser must either state what the generally expected results are or indicate that the consumer should not expect to experience the results contained in the testimonial. A vague disclaimer like “results may vary” is not sufficient.
If you are a marketer promoting dietary supplements or weight loss products, then you must familiarize yourself with the FTC’s rules. Some of the most important are summarized above, but this is a general introduction. You must do more in-depth research into the FTC’s requirements if you are marketing these types of products.