FTC Compliant Endorsements & Testimonials

One of the biggest issues surrounding the new FTC Guides going into effect Dec 1st is the use of endorsements and testimonials, and specifically atypical results in your sales copy.

Joel Comm mentioned a good example in his recent webinar regarding the new FTC guides - a true testimonial he had received from one of his ebook customers:

"after reading your guide I went from making a thousand dollars a day to making 10 thousand dollars a day"

A glowing testimonial indeed, and one that would serve Joel well in his sales copy, but certainly not FTC compliant...

Key Issue: Atypical Results

One of the key issues in complying with the new guides regarding testimonials & endorsements is the use of atypical results. Obviously not everyone is going to make $10,000/day using Joel's methods, so the testimonial above serves as a good example of an atypical result.

The FTC is not saying that you cannot use atypical results under their new guides, but simply that they must be qualified. You can no longer get by with a generic disclaimer such as "results not typical" or "results may vary".

This does not affect endorsements or testimonials that don't mention results. I have a glowing endorsement from Willie Crawford for my Fast Cash Strategy that remains compliant, and serves as a good example:

You can click through to read the other endorsements and testimonials on that page to see a good example of the wording you can use - wording that isn't affected by the new FTC guides either by mention of results or by needing to be 'current'.

Requirements For Using Atypical Results

There are 2 major requirements for using testimonials that reflect atypical results. One is that it must be current, meaning the person who wrote that testimonial is still experiencing those same results using your product or service.

The second requirement is that those results be qualified. This means you need to include the reason they achieved atypical results using your product or service.

If you have results-based testimonials on your sales pages, you need to contact each person to make sure they are still current and accurate. And if so, you'll need to modify those testimonials to include more information.

In the case of Joel's testimonial above, an addition is needed that explains why this buyer achieved such great results. Obviously he already had multiple websites or a lot of work invested, as he was making $1,000/day when he read the guide. But according to the FTC, the obvious needs to be made even more obvious.

An example the FTC gave in their original documents back in October was for a diet pill. The atypical result was along the lines of "Sally lost 100 lbs in 6 months with our product". That's not compliant. But if it said "Sally lost 100 lbs in 6 months taking our product, working out for 6 hours a day, and eating nothing but raw vegetables" - that IS compliant. See the difference?

Creative Idea For Using Atypical Results In Your Sales Copy

Before you go removing all of your glowing testimonials and settle for the fact that your conversion rate is going to tank, thanks to the FTC (glass half empty mindset)... consider the ways you can use these new guides to your advantage.

Get in touch with each of the people who wrote those testimonials, and find out if the details are still current. Are they still achieving the same results, using your methods or your products/services?

If so, ask them for a quick interview on how they achieved such exceptional results. It can be a text interview that you do via email, they can submit a video testimonial with the details, or you could conduct an audio interview.

Install a blog on the same domain as your sales letter, specifically for these interviews, and create a new post that features each customer and their personal testimonial for your product or service.

On the actual sales page you could display a glowing testimonial that reads:

“after reading your guide I went from making a thousand dollars a day to making 10 thousand dollars a day” find out how John did it!

Each blog post will contain the text, audio or video testimonial in detail - qualifying their results and making it FTC compliant. That post will then link back to the sales letter ("return to the ABC page"), which will ultimately give you some very nice internal linking structure as an SEO bonus. ;)

New FTC Guides = New Marketing Opportunities

Instead of falling for the hype & scare surrounding the new FTC guides for endorsements and testimonials, look at this as a bright new opportunity. It really opens the door for more creative options and more creative marketing styles.

I think this could be a great thing.

Think about it: if consumers feel more protected, and are fed more realistic results and less hype, they'll be less skeptical. And less skepticism will ultimately result in higher conversion rates.

In the process of making sure that your sites and sales copy are FTC compliant, consider creative ways to increase trust and make a better connection with your target market. Let them see the potential that your method, product or service as - in a true light.

Best,

About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 15 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn's unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews...more»

Discussion

  1. Mark Mason says:

    Great review Lynn.

    The thing that still has me concerned a little is the very clear direction that we are "...required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect."

    Reference: paragraph 3 here http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm

    While I do understand that qualifying testimonials is very good business, it is not clear to me that telling someone how the results were achieved is the same as stating "the results that consumers can generally expect."

    In your example above, the testimonial implies that reading the eBook results in increased income. I think the FTC is asking you to disclose the income increase that the average reader can expect.

    Thoughts?

    Thanks again for helping calm everyone down.

    Regards,
    Mark

    • The paragraph says:

      Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect.

      You could easily qualify those testimonials on the sales page with a statement that says "Exceptional results our customers have shared:" - and then follow up by discussing typical results. Something like:

      "Listen to their stories and learn how they achieved such exceptional results with our product. You'll find that they... (insert what it takes)"

      In this PDF Document filled with examples, the last paragraph on Page 5 says:

      Nonetheless, the Commission cannot rule out the possibility that a strong disclaimer of typicality could be effective in the context of a particular advertisement. Although the Commission would have the burden of proof in a law enforcement action, the Commission notes that an advertiser possessing reliable empirical testing demonstrating that the net impression of its advertisement with such a disclaimer is non-deceptive will avoid the risk of the initiation of such an action in the first instance.

      Also see Example #4 on pages 6 & 7 that says:

      An advertisement for a weight-loss product features a formerly obese woman. She says in the ad, “Every day, I drank 2 WeightAway shakes, ate only raw vegetables, and exercised vigorously for six hours at the gym. By the end of six months, I had gone from 250 pounds to 140 pounds.”

      The advertisement accurately describes the woman’s experience, and such a result is within the range that would be generally experienced by an extremely overweight individual who consumed WeightAway shakes, only ate raw vegetables, and exercised as the endorser did.

      Because the endorser clearly describes the limited and truly exceptional circumstances under which she achieved her results, the ad is not likely to convey that consumers who weigh substantially less or use WeightAway under less extreme circumstances will lose 110 pounds in six months.

    • To simplify that, “…required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect” means that by qualifying the testimonial (how they achieved atypical results) we are clearly disclosing what results they can expect if they do the same. Make sense, given the examples above?

      • You know -- what bugs me about you is that you seldom every take the time to make a thoughtful reply to my comments. LOL

        Seriously, your answer makes sense given the additional (not completely consistent) information in the example document.

        The FTC weightloss example is very interesting, because it clearly does not address "the results that consumers can generally expect." It also does not address whether or not the results had anything to do with the product. What is addresses are the effects observed in a well documented case.

        If I had a red weightloss t-shirt business, I could have a testimonial that said: “Every day, I wore my red weightloss t-shirt, ate only raw vegetables, and exercised vigorously for six hours at the gym. By the end of six months, I had gone from 250 pounds to 140 pounds.”

        But of course, the shirt had nothing to do with it (and neither did the shake, I bet).

        But, like I said -- I agree with you given the information that we have.

        I think the bottom line is still that if you are treating people well and telling the truth the risk from all of this is really low.

        Thanks again for the thoughtful reply.

        • LOL, Mark :P

          You really have to read through all of the documents in great detail for yourself to really get an overview of what the FTC expects and how they would like the guides to be applied. I was really glad to see them release a document filled with real-world examples - very helpful in understanding their meaning.

          Basically they want more transparency, and nothing that is potentially deceptive. So if you qualify atypical results then consumers can "generally expect the same results IF they do the same things the endorser also did".

          As for the shirt... if I wore the same red shirt every single day for 6 months, I think that would really motivate me to hurry up and reach my goal so I could change clothes. So maybe the shirt does work! :lol:

  2. Great twist on this Lynn! I think this will be a good thing as well.

  3. Free Article Directory says:

    Good information. I don't live in the US, however knowing Canada, I have a feeling this is something that I will eventually have to follow. Thanks for the info!

  4. I like your example and how you've turned lemons into lemonade. If businesses really started providing evidence for the crazy claims they gave (if actual examples really existed) then consumers would actually be way more likely to buy the product.

    Yeah, it takes more work, but in the long run I'm betting more profitable.

  5. Thanks so much for keeping us updated about all of these new changes!

  6. I think the FTC is more likely "targeting" the Flogs, with page full of fake testimonials. For sites with real testimonials, it's not hard to be compliant AND keep the same conversions.

    Having said that, what's amazing about your post is not only the good content, but also how you put "things" together.

    • Thank you Joe - and I agree. This comes on the tail of all those fake blogs (ie flogs) for the acai berry product, which really needed to go. I expect that is the target, but given the new guides we'll all need to make sure we comply of course.

  7. I recently attended a meeting of the Philadelphia area Social Media Club where this topic was discussed at length. One of the major targets are the infomercials we all see on television and as I learned that evening, including online blogs and related properties was essentially a "throw in." I just found it interesting how the focus of the law really wasn't intended to be online publishers...

  8. Bollywood News says:

    Thanks so much for keeping us updated about all of these new changes.Great post.

  9. The government is so dumb. Do you think they have any idea how they are going to even enforce such rules other than "making examples" out of a few poor souls? Not a chance.

  10. Thank you for your detailed examples for working toward compliance within the new FTC rules. Will refer back to your comments when my thinking on this matter needs your positive and clear headed approach.

  11. Thanks for the great post - it means a lot that you're discussing the issue in a straight-forward and positive way.

  12. Great Article, thanks Terry for the ideas.

  13. Darlene (Dee) Bishop says:

    Okay... I understand the issues with specific claims (thanks to your explanation!), but what about writing reviews for products received free? I review books that publishers send me and post the review on my blog. Is it enough to say "This book was received free" or some such statement?

  14. The thing that makes me nervous is on my niche-specific Romance Rescue. I mean people are talking about their sex lives, for heaven's sakes. The issue is so personal that they sometimes just use their initials. And truly, with something so subjective, how do you describe what is typical? I think I'm just going to put it out there like it is, but I love your idea of links to whole mini-interviews.

    • I'm not familiar with your site or business model, but you should read all the updates and documents and figure out what you need to do to make sure you are compliant - assuming you are selling a product that provides these results?

  15. Lynn,

    I like the way you're helping people see the bright side on the FTC issue. However, in the case of the testimonial listed above - as a lawyer for information entrepreneurs, those atypical claims MUST COME DOWN until you can show what generally expected performance results are, or until the FTC gives an example that says these are OK - otherwise you will be in the cross-hairs and nobody wants to be the specific example on this one.

    Looking at your example statement:
    ---
    On the actual sales page you could display a glowing testimonial that reads:

    “after reading your guide I went from making a thousand dollars a day to making 10 thousand dollars a day” find out how John did it!

    Each blog post will contain the text, audio or video testimonial in detail – qualifying their results and making it FTC compliant. That post will then link back to the sales letter (”return to the ABC page”), which will ultimately give you some very nice internal linking structure as an SEO bonus.

    ---

    It's my legal opinion that doing this will subject people to deceptive advertising charges from the FTC. It is NOT going to be seen as OK. In this case you would have to have REAL DATA showing that the 10 thousand dollars a day was withing the generally expected performance data OR you would have to display ON THAT PAGE, in a CLEAR AND CONSPICUOUS manner what the generally expected performance results are.

    Your example is little more than the "results not typical" disclaimer that the FTC has clearly stated will not be good enough anymore.

    Everyone SHOULD be very nervous about this and act very conservatively until we have some specific enforcement action examples from the FTC.

    If you would like to know more about these areas and have more in-depth discussion, I would be happy to do a Webinar with/for you to clear up some of this confusion (to the extent it's possible). It would be close to the same Webinar that I presented with Joel Comm a couple weeks ago for the new http://www.sitecompliant.com materials.

    • I see what you're saying Kevin, but the FTC was very clear on wanting transparency - and wanting atypical results qualified. The sales page should clearly state what the product does and what the consumer can expect, but it can also discuss what *can* be accomplished - as long as those statements are current, true, and qualified to the detail.

      This was explained in their example of a weight loss product very clearly. Ultimately it's up to the merchant or site owner to read the documents for themselves, and give careful consideration to how they apply to their particular business model.

  16. Thanks so much for your informative blog post.
    Do you think our affiliates have to disclose if they are promoting our free products... such as helping to spread the word about our free teleclasses or eBook?

    • Great question, Susan! The answer is yes, because the affiliate has a relationship with you, regardless of price (or free). So that relationship needs to be disclosed. --Assuming that they are using a referral link to recommend your free products, and will earn commission (or receive other incentives) on any sales that result from that referral in the future.

  17. This is my first reading of your material and discovered a spelling error. I offer this only as "suggestive criticism" that readability is improved when not interrupted by typos.

    It occurs in the following statement: "I have a glowing endorsement from Willie Crawford for my Fast Cash Strategy that remains "complaint", and serves as a good example:"

    Great post!

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