FTC's Truth in Advertising: Endorsement Guides

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

The Federal Trade Commission issues standards for marketers using endorsements. In this lesson, you'll learn more about these rules and what is expected of advertisers.

Truth in Advertising

There are a lot of directions you can choose as a marketer or advertiser. One of those paths includes dishonesty or making false or deceptive claims about your business, products or services. Reputable marketers choose the higher road, however, maintaining integrity, honesty and transparency in the advertising and marketing of their brand.

The Federal Trade Commission enforces truth-in-advertising standards for marketing and promotion.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces truth-in-advertising standards for marketing and promotion.

It is not only an ethical decision, but one regulated by a governing body that seeks to protect consumers from fraudulent advertising tactics and misleading marketing gimmicks. The Federal Trade Commission's job as a bipartisan federal agency is two-fold: to protect consumers from deceptive marketplace places and to promote competition in pricing, selection and service that can benefit consumers.

Among the many arms of the Federal Trade Commission is the enforcement of Truth-in-Advertising standards, which we'll discuss below.

Meeting the Standard

Truth in advertising, according to the FTC, means complying with a federal law requiring advertising and marketing to be 'truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.' Truth-in-advertising laws apply to advertisements in various mediums including print publications, digital sources, direct mail or in public places such as on a billboard.

The commission publishes a variety of guides for various products and methods of advertising to outline the rules and regulations advertisers and marketers must follow in conducting their day-to-day business. One of those contains guidelines about how to properly handle testimonials and endorsements of products and services.

What the Guide Covers

The FTC's Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising are guidelines covering many areas relating to the use of endorsements and testimonials, including the use of testimonials from celebrities in advertising and marketing materials. The need for this type of oversight stems from the persuasive nature of endorsements, which can weigh heavily in a consumer's buying decisions.

The guide begins by saying that an endorsement or testimonial should be the honest opinion of the endorser and should not make a claim about the product that the business itself cannot legally make. Any relationship between someone giving an endorsement or testimonial must be disclosed to consumers. For example, a paid endorsement on a television commercial may state that the endorser was compensated in some way for their participation in the endorsement. Not only do these standards apply to television advertising, but to all platforms ranging from radio and blogs to print, online ads and social media. So, for example, if you were gifted products because you run a popular blog, and you write a review about those products, you must tell your readers clearly that you were given the items in exchange for your honest feedback.

Another guide standard includes endorsements that speak to unusual or above average results, such as a skincare product that allegedly cleared up the endorser's skin within an hour. Without scientific data from the brand to back up this claim, the advertisement must convey to the audience that these results are not typical and explain what average results may be.

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