Recently, the Federal Trade Commission for the first time in nearly thirty years issued updated guidelines governing the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertisements. The FTC’s new Guideline “incorporates several changes to the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, which address endorsements by consumers, experts, organizations, and celebrities, as well as the disclosure of important connections between advertisers and endorsers.” See, FTC Press Release, October 5, 2009. These Guidelines, last updated in 1980, now include specific guidance on posting by bloggers and other online social networking platforms.
Gone from these new Guidelines is the “safe harbor” provision of a “results not typical” disclaimer or “disclaimers of typicality” in advertisements. Now, advertisers in claims of typicality must be more explicit and make clear what results would generally be expected.
For the first time, the Guidelines recognize the new world of online media and its new ways of reaching people through advertising. The Guidelines add new examples of their application to advertisers and endorsers in blogs. “Bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization.” FTC Press Release, October 10, 2009.
There is no exception to these Guidelines for professional services. So, if your firm takes advantage of online blogs or network resources to advertise, you should consider reviewing your policies on advertising and social media networking in light of these new FTC Guidelines.