By Alan Graner
examined consumer endorsements. Now we turn to expert endorsements.
Dr. Pepper ran a series of commercials featuring Dr. J, Dr. Love, Dr. Dre and others. All of them extolled the joys of drinking Dr. Pepper. Then, looking straight at the audience, each declared “Trust me. I’m a doctor.”
Wait a minute! These guys aren’t real doctors. Aren’t these ads deceptive?
No. The ads are obviously a spoof, and anyone who thinks these are real doctors needs a real doctor.
Which begs the question: who exactly is an “expert”?
The Federal Trade Commission defines an endorsement as basically any advertising message that consumers believe truly reflect the endorser’s opinions and experiences. The FTC Guides considers testimonials the same as endorsements.
The FTC rules for expert endorsements
On December 1, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published its Guides Concerning the use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, its first update since the 1980 Guides. However, these are guides, not laws. It’s up to the FTC to determine what an endorsement is and whether it violates the Guides.
(a) An expert endorser must have the qualifications regarding the endorsement message.
A man endorsing the Mighty Widget is identified as an engineer. The natural assumption is he has the qualifications to give expert Widget analyses. Fine. But if he’s really an automotive engineer or a chemical engineer or any engineer without extensive knowledge of widgetry, then the ad is deceptive.
(b) An expert endorser must be qualified to evaluate a product or service. The evaluation must include sufficient product testing to support the ad’s conclusions.
“The Mighty Widget is endorsed by American Widget Testing Labs (AWTL).” Sounds impressive, no? In the past, however, it was possible the AWTL could be owned by the widget industry or a manufacturer. It could even have endorsed widgets for a fee. That is deceptive. To be a legitimate endorser today, the AWTL must be a bona fide independent testing organization with the expertise to accurately evaluate widgets.
If the endorsement is based on an expert comparison, it must be apples to apples.
After XYZ Hospital evaluated and compared non-prescription drugs, they recommend Brand A. Terrific. However, if they selected Brand A because of its packaging, and the packaging is only available to hospitals and not the general public, the endorsement is deceptive.
If the expert claims your product is superior, she must in fact have found such a superiority over comparable products.
If Dr. Smith claims your drug lowers cholesterol by 50 points based on letters from very satisfied customers rather than from hard scientific data, it’s considered deceptive…even though the letters are true. Anecdotal evidence does not supplant scientific evidence.
255.4 Endorsements by organizations
An organization’s opinion must represent the group as a whole and must fairly reflect the collective judgment. If it’s an expert organization, the product must be evaluated by recognized experts or by compliance with the organization’s standards.
What’s your take?
Next: FTC full disclosure rules Part 4: Material connections
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA business marketing content and distribution firm. For content that makes you stick out from the crowd, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.