My husband and I are quick on the remote whenever those annoying commercials for Weight Watchers or NutriSystem invade our TV, but sometimes we leave the remote be and instead play a game of “Who can read the 2-point fine print that flashes for scarcely a second at the bottom of the screen.” You know the copy — ‘Results not typical’ or ‘Remunerated (paid) spokesperson’ that let you know that these people are an aberration and that the probability of you losing the same amount of weight in the same time or getting the same slim tanned, toned body is about as likely as the Dow hitting 10,000 again any time soon. But now thanks to the Federal Trade Commission, Valerie Bertinelli and Marie Osmond might rightfully return to the distant realm of TV has-beens. According to the Chicago Trib:
Updated guidelines on ad endorsements and testimonials under final review by the Federal Trade Commission—and widely expected to be adopted—would end marketers’ ability to talk up the extreme benefits of products while carrying disclaimers like “results not typical” or “individual results may vary.”
Instead, companies would be allowed to tout extreme results only if they also spelled out typical outcomes.
“For a good part of the last decade, we have noticed a problem, particularly with consumer testimonials,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “The use of consumer testimonials had become almost a safe harbor for companies as long as they threw in some sort of disclaimer about results not being typical.”
The FTC already targeted Jenny Craig a decade ago for making deceptive claims about the success of its weight-loss program. In a settlement agreement, the company was required to, amongst other requirements, include the caveats “For many dieters, weight loss is temporary,” and “This result is not typical. You may be less successful,” into its promotional materials. The proposed rules go even further, requiring Jenny Craig to show not a paid spokescelebrity boasting a 40-pound weight loss, but rather an average customer whose weight loss is most likely considerably less, if any. The rules would affect all forms of advertising and marketing, including blogs and company Web sites and the FTC could bring legal action against businesses that don’t comply.
As you can deduce, the proposed guidelines aren’t drawing any applause from advertisers.
The revisions have drawn sharp criticism from product manufacturers, advertising agencies and trade groups who say it is the “aspirational” theme of their ads that motivates consumers to purchase their goods. Show less than the ultimate achievement, they say, and consumers are less likely to buy.
One of the proposed guidelines are that bloggers who get free products and then endorse them on their blogs would have to make it clear they got the products free. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not accept advertising nor will I endorse products unless they reinforce the site’s goal of promoting healthy relationships with food and body (and believe me, I get tons of offers to review everything from body building shakes to granola bars promising an alternative to weight loss surgery — all on a site authored by a recovering anorexic). You can read more on my advertising policy here.
The final FTC guidelines are expected to be issued later this year. For more details on those requirements, see here.