The Therapeutic Goods Administration has established new guidelines to govern how influencers can promote products on social media in return for payment or free products from brands. Gavin Adkins, Bridget Renehan and Aimee Foster review the updated code, how it will impact influencers, and what therapeutic goods brands need to be aware.

What’s new?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia’s regulator of medicines and medical devices, released a new advertising code in January 2022, which set out new guidelines affecting how products the TGA regulates can be promoted by influencers on social media. This includes everyday goods, such as vitamins and sunscreens, but also includes goods that can treat serious conditions, such as prescription medicines and surgical implants.

Influencers, who promote products on social media in return for payment or free products or services from brands, must now be in accordance with the code where they promote therapeutic goods. The updated advertising code clarifies a difference between “testimonials” and “endorsements”. Testimonials which involve a personal statement about the perceived benefits of a product, must no longer be given by people involved in the marketing of the goods. Instead, influencers will be restricted to only making endorsements on social media provided the endorsement does not refer to the person’s personal experience using the good (which would amount to a testimonial). Endorsement must only illustrate the listed benefits of the goods and be made in accordance with the recommended use.

Therefore, advertisements should not include fanciful or deceptive representations, and any scientific claims must be supported by empirical data and research. They also should not perpetuate unrealistic expectations about the safety of the goods. To remain balanced and accurate, promotions should align with the good’s label and directions for use.

Reason for change

The aims of the changes include improving transparency in the wellness industry by preventing false or misleading claims about therapeutic goods. The review comes in response to incidents of influencers making apparently disingenuous reviews and unsubstantiated claims in exchange for payment or gifts from brands. By promoting ethical advertising, the code intends to reduce the misuse of therapeutic goods, as well as preventing the sale of goods under false pretences of the product’s performance.

Affected goods

The changes do not apply entirely across the beauty industry, but strictly applies to products alleging health benefits including vitamins and supplements, sunscreen, treatments for skin conditions, medicines and medical devices. The TGA recognises the demand for regulation of these goods due to their medicinal claims and associated risks.

Anticipated effect

After June 30, influencers must adapt their promotion of such items to be from an objective stance. They will be confined to relaying the approved purpose of the goods. Importantly, this extends to the removal of past paid-for testimonials to avoid penalties. Further, all sponsored posts need to contain a disclosure of their brand affiliation. This change will limit influencers’ ability to provide more personal product evaluations as they are no longer able to relate their own product experience where it is a paid promotion.