Phony "Testimonials" Can Bring a Martial Arts Website Down!
Bloggers and websites advertising "testimonials" by celebrities and even regular people, beware! The Federal Trade Commission holds no punches when it comes to websites that utilize "testimonials" in the promotion of their goods or services. Websites that apparently have no compunctions about using stock photo images of people allegedly using their equipment, products, or facilities, could face severe fines.
Buyer beware, as well! If you're going to patronize websites that include images of "customers" "before and after" using the website's facilities or products, you have the right to question the validity of those images! The most prudent of us recognize that there are, indeed, websites, as well as physical stores, who are somewhat less than scrupulous with their advertising and promotional videos and images. Generally, most websites are honest and truthful, but it's better to be cautious than to be taken in by an advertising ruse. If they lie about their advertising claims, what else can they be lying about?
The FTC, is very adamant about the usage of "before and after" customer images. Under their revised guidelines, advertisers that feature consumers conveying their experiences with the advertiser's products or services, while claiming that the results are not typical, are not only unacceptable, they're illegal!
The FTC's newest ruling came after a 29 year break from its most recent prior ruling in 1980! Apparently, with all the charlatans and misleading advertisers online, the FTC felt compelled to make a statement. And, it came none too soon! There are many websites that promise or declare one thing while delivering another, and that will use subterfuge and deceit to draw in unsuspecting customers. That's a practice that goes back to Snake Oil salesmen centuries ago.
So, if a website has an image portraying a person or persons, the website better be able to provide proof that those individuals were using the products or services as portrayed. The website cannot just post images of people who claim, by insinuation of the image, that they "lost weight" in the endorsement of the website. There has to be irrefutable proof that those exact people experienced the weight loss or benefits from that facility or that specific regimen, routine, or program, as advertised. No longer can a website even use the phrase, "results not typical" as a disclaimer.
Furthermore, if the person or person portrayed on the website are, or were, paid for their comments or image, either in money, product, or services, it is considered a paid endorsement. Their form of payment, or "material connections" to the website must be disclosed. An endorsement that is paid for, like any form of advertisement, is considered deceptive it it makes misleading or false claims. If the site portrays "before and after" photos of their customers, they had BETTER be actual photos of their customers, and NOT stock photos of unknown persons not actually having experienced the website's products or services. If not, those claims are considered deceiving and misleading.
An acceptable exchange or sharing of testimonials may occur. If another facility in the same company as the facility advertised, with certified and licensed instructors, has provided the SAME course or program to the individual portrayed, that is acceptable. It must be made clear that the student in the image has taken the same identical course from another facility associated with the one in the website. Again, absolute proof has to be on file.
Also, partaking of a mail-order course, or participating in a downloaded curriculum or course, does NOT qualify as legitimate certification. In order to become legitimately certified in a specific course, the instructor MUST physically attend the required certification course. And he or she is required to teach ONLY the same, exact curriculum they have completed, and are advertising. If they are providing instructional classes in any other course or curriculum, they are doing so illegally.
The Commission vote, in approval of the issuance of the Federal Register outlining the details of the changes, was a resounding 4-0! That unanimous vote is indicative of how serious the FTC was in enacting and enforcing the changes. A complete description of these changes is now available on the FTC's website. Physical copies are also available.
Online fraud is out there! Websites that promote healthy activities, above all, should be held to exactness in their statements, both overt and implied. If YOU spot a website that you suspect may be using fraudulent, unfair, or deceptive advertising claims, you can and should file a claim. Visit the FTC online or call 1-877-382-4357. Both avenues are secure. You can make a legitimate complaint without fear of reproach.
We all want to make our lives and world happy and safe. Do we really want to be part of deceptive marketing?