Consumer endorsements and testimonials have recently garnered a lot of attention from the National Advertising Division (NAD) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). There has been a renewed interest in assuring that advertisements containing an endorsement or testimonial are truthful and not misleading, that if an advertiser does not have proof that an endorser’s experience represents what consumers will achieve when using the product the ad must clearly and conspicuously disclose the general expected results in the depicted circumstances, and, if there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.
Social media websites certainly do not receive special treatment from the NAD or FTC when it comes to consumer opinion regarding products and services. This is especially true for advertisers of dietary and nutritional products. Testimonials claiming specific results usually will be interpreted to mean that the endorser’s experience is what others can expect. Statements like “Results not typical” or “Individual results may vary” won’t change that interpretation. If the results are not typical, an advertiser must clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected performance in the circumstances shown in the ad.
Recently NAD issued a decision regarding the newly popular website Pinterest. Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board, often described as a social photo-sharing website where users create and manage theme-based image collections by “pinning” digital content they find on the web to their personal boards. NAD began following Nutrisystem, Inc.’s weight-loss success stories pinned to such boards. These stories had express claims regarding consumer’s weight loss success, including the consumer’s name, total weight loss, and a link to the Nutrisystem website.
Testimonials which tout atypical results must be qualified by a clear and conspicuous disclosure noting the results the consumer can generally expect to achieve using the product in the circumstances depicted. Such disclosures should appear close in proximity to the claims they are intended to qualify. NAD found that it was undisputed that these pins represented consumer testimonials, and, as such, these pins should be accompanied by a clear and conspicuous disclosure noting the typical results consumers can expect to achieve using the Nutrisystem weight loss program.
Companies need to be aware that both NAD and the FTC closely scrutinize social media sites, such as Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. As social media websites become more sophisticated and allow for consumers to become increasingly intertwined with a company’s advertising message, companies need to have reasonable programs in place to monitor and inform members of their network of what can and cannot be said about products or services.