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Hey there and welcome back to another episode of Office Talk. I’m your host, Annette Stepanian, and in this week’s episode, we’re going to be talking about when can you use customer testimonials in your marketing?
Now I’ve gotten this question over the years from folks who are like, “Annette, I’ve got these great reviews from my customers, from my students, from folks who have utilized my services, and I want to use it either on my website. Or I want to have them give me a video testimonial. And I’m going to put some ad money behind it and run Facebook ads to that. Is there anything I need to know from a legal perspective about whether or not I can use these testimonials?”
First off, I just want to say for the folks who’ve been asking me this quite these questions, I’m so proud of you for thinking about the legal implications of this. You know, whether we like it or not, there are legal implications to a lot of what we do in our business, especially when it comes to marketing & advertising. So in this episode, I want to just hone in on what you need to be aware of if you want to use the actual reviews or testimonials from your customers when marketing your products or services.
Now a lot of this stuff is going to be dictated from the FTC’s endorsement guides. Now I’m going to put a link to these in the show notes so you can go check it out. I would really encourage you, if you’re really bored maybe on a Saturday, if it’s raining outside or something, go ahead and check out the different guides that the FTC has put out. I find them super user friendly. They cover a broad range of topics from affiliate relationships to things like endorsements and testimonials to just online disclosures. They give a lot of tangible examples.
Let’s walk through a few things you need to be considering if you’re going to be using testimonials.
Now, the first thing we want to do is let’s just be clear like is this an endorsement or a testimonial that this person is giving. Now I think most of us understand fundamentally what this is going to look like, but it’s usually an opinion given by an individual or an organization that a consumer is likely to believe reflects the opinion or the experience, other than the advertiser, about that product or service. So things like, “This is the best hairdryer I’ve ever used,” or “I took this product and I lost 30 pounds in 30 days,” or “I took this course and I made $100,000 in two weeks.” So things where a customer gives an opinion about another product or another service that they have used that a consumer is likely to believe.
So that’s the easy thing, but we want to think about the next step: who is the endorser? Now the FTC differentiates between different types of endorsers. So there might be a celebrity endorser, maybe an expert or an organization, but I want to really focus in on the consumer.
So this is someone who has actually purchased or used your product and has an opinion about it. So here’s the thing: the endorsement or testimonial (I’m going to use those terms interchangeably) has to accurately represent the endorser’s experience with the product. Going back to what I just said before, let’s say that claim has been made that I took this course and I made a $100,000 in two weeks. Well that has to be substantiated. You have to have some evidence that you could look to to say, “Okay, what this person said is actually true.” That claim about that product or service, made by that consumer, has to be substantiated in the same manner as if the advertiser himself was making the claim. So the fact that you have the endorsement, in and of itself, is not enough to substantiate the claim. You have to have evidence that the claim is accurate.
And here’s the kicker: not only does it have to be substantiated, but it has to be typical of an ordinary consumer’s experience. We need to ask ourselves, “Is this endorser’s experience typical of what an ordinary user of the product or service can expect?” So for example, let’s say that $100,000 example, that’s an anomaly, right? You maybe have 100 students, and only one student has ever had that situation happen, but when you do a survey & you poll your other 99 students, you find that on average, let’s say they make $10,000 over six months by implementing the stuff that they’ve learned in your course. Well, that is what the typical user can expect and that is what you need to be sharing. So if the endorser’s experience is not typical, then you as the advertiser must disclose what is considered typical.
Another example is let’s say with the weight loss. So let’s say on average people lose maybe 10 pounds in 30 days versus this other testimonial you have where the person lost 30 pounds in 30 days. If the typical experience is 10 pounds in 30 days, that is what you should be disclosing.
Now, people say, “Well can I put ‘results not typical’ or ‘results may vary’?” Well, according to the FTC, those are no longer acceptable. In fact, they advised that if an advertiser can’t determine consumer’s typical experience will be with respect to a certain product attribute, then you should not be using any endorsements regarding that attribute.
In addition, we want to ask ourselves, “Is there some sort of material connection between the endorser and advertiser that needs to be disclosed? Is there some element of bias here that a consumer should know about when they take this endorsement or testimonial into consideration?” So, for example, let’s say you have paid this endorser to give a testimonial. Maybe you’ve given them a free product or maybe you’ve given them access or visibility that they otherwise wouldn’t have received if they hadn’t left you this testimonial or this review. Are you guys related in some way? Is this endorser your sister-in-law who wants to help you and so she left you a good review?
However, reasonable compensation to the consumer in exchange for some sort of endorsement typically does not require disclosure if the offer is made after receipt of the endorsement and not in exchange for it.
Note that when it comes to disclosures, in general, you want them to be clear and conspicuous and they usually recommend that you deliver it in the same format as the content is being delivered. So, for example, if you’re doing it through video, you might consider having any disclosures flash up as fine print at the bottom of the screen. Just like what you see in commercials.
Or maybe it’s an audio clip and so you’d have to have some sort of disclosure in audio format along with that clip so that the consuming public can then hear the disclosure in the same manner in which they’re consuming that testimonial.
In contrast, let’s say you had a video and the video content was a testimonial and then you had in the description of the blog post or the YouTube page. It was the disclosure. Well that may not be considered to be an effective disclosure because that video may not be consumed or viewed on that blog page with a disclosure or on that YouTube page that had the disclosure in the description section. It should all kind of be contained in the same method in which the endorsement or testimonial is being delivered.
And of course, hopefully, this is super obvious, but if you’re ever going to use somebody’s testimonial in your advertising, it’s always a really good step to get their permission.
So with that said, I just wanted to give you a quick tip on using customer testimonials. I hope you have a wonderful day and I’ll talk to you next time.