Starting on December 1, the FTC is dropping a bomb on the world of online marketing. It impacts the use of endorsements and testimonials and from my reading it appears that these new guidelines have nothing to do with ensuring truthful use of endorsements and testimonials, but rather seeks to eliminate them as a form of legitimate marketing.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Even if I was, I am not your lawyer. This is my rant based on my own studies, experience and interviews with people who are lawyers…but they’re not your lawyers either so there’s no legal advice in this blog.
Parts of these new guidelines are intended to provide better disclosure when it comes to things like blogging about the benefits of a product. Lifting this example from ClickNewz.com, I think it’s clear how this change would be beneficial to the public.
A consumer who regularly purchases a particular brand of dog food decides one day to purchase a new, more expensive brand made by the same manufacturer. She writes in her personal blog that the change in diet has made her dog’s fur noticeably softer and shinier, and that in her opinion, the new food definitely is worth the extra money. This posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.
Assume that rather than purchase the dog food with her own money, the consumer gets it for free because the store routinely tracks her purchases and its computer has generated a coupon for a free trial bag of this new brand. Again, her posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.
Assume now that the consumer joins a network marketing program under which she periodically receives various products about which she can write reviews if she wants to do so. If she receives a free bag of the new dog food through this program, her positive review would be considered an endorsement under the Guides.
Ok, that doesn’t seem so bad. Knowing that someone is benefitting from their endorsement adds a certain level of candor and that’s a good thing.
What bothers me is the apparent elimination of safe harbor in the form of “results not typical.” It used to be that you could share endorsements and testimonials from your best clients. To set the proper context, you’d mention “results not typical.” According to this legal review of the new FTC guidelines, this disclaimer no longer provides safe harbor.
It doesn’t matter if the results are true. They are seeking to restrict free speech, so pardon me if I get riled up over this.
Think about this, Jared eats sandwiches from Subway, exercises more and loses a bunch of weight.
Not too surprising if we consider the axiomatic weight loss formula as follows.
Consume fewer calories than your body burns, and you will loose weight.
So does everyone lose weight that tries the “Subway Diet”? Hell no. But it has nothing to do with subway. People don’t sustain diets for countless reasons. What this means is that the typical result is that you don’t lose weight on your diet.
Typical results in network marketing: you lose money, end up with products in your garage and get really pissed.
Typical results starting a restaurant: you fail.
Typical results starting any business: you fail.
Typical results with a life coach: you get annoyed upon realizing you’re responsible for your lack of results and quit.
Typical results at a gym: you don’t go.
Typical results after buying Get The Edge from Tony Robbins: You listen to the first CD (maybe) and the rest sits on the shelf until it’s sold in an estate auction.
Are any of these typical results the fault of the business? NO! They’re the result of human nature. If the FTC says you can only share “typical” success stories, you’re not going to hear about anyone doing anything of note again.
This is complete and total BS and is further proof to my assertion that no one at the FTC could operate a business in the real world (successfully) if their life depended on it.
Laws made poser-noob-bureaucrats are bad for the country. Either get rid of the FTC or fire all the pencil jockeys who work there.
Here’s another good article on the subject.
Now as a friend pointed out to me this morning, this kind of stuff happens from time to time.
The rules get changed.
Right now, people I talk to seem really confused and concerned about these changes. Ultimately WE THE PEOPLE will specify to the FTC how they will serve us because they exist at the pleasure of WE THE PEOPLE.
In the meantime, the best approach is to figure out what can be done and get back to work.
How about you? Are you concerned about these new guidelines?
How do you think will they affect your marketing efforts?
Leave a comment below.