Why The New FTC Guidelines May Become Your Best Friend

Why The New FTC Guidelines May Become Your Best Friend

Reader Comments (62)

  1. Great article, however, there is one kinda major flaw in the whole FTC ruling impact that most people haven’t quite discussed yet.

    The FTC is an American body. It has no jurisdiction internationally. Thus I think you will find those who simply want to continue their dishonest practices will move their websites to hosts outside of the US. Like all internet related issues, unless the majority of other countries follow suite this ruling really will have no large scale impact.

    However, it will change the way honest bloggers and marketers do business from the US.

  2. And yet this never really worried me. I guess anyone who is really doing the right thing shouldn’t have to worry. All of my testimonials are real easily verifiable people. Plus I say take it one step further and add the FTC info to your sales pages (I am changing mine) that way you garner more trust (and hopefully sales).

    Realistically Barry I don’t think it will stop the scams but it may make them think twice and go elsewhere. Time tells all tales 🙂 good post sir.

  3. I think the FTC rules will only strength the use of social media even more. Where customers can read the comments of others, vote and see what other people are voting about, as well as leave ratings with their own pictures and YouTube video; it makes the need for testimonials obsolete.

    I personally avoid testimonials anyway. I think that the copy should speak for itself and if you do a good job showing your customer how their life will be better with your product, you won’t even need the testimonials.

    All in all, I think this is a very positive step for the world fo direct marketing, because it will get rid of some of the fluff and misleadin advertising that’s out there… although I still LOVE myself a late-night informercial.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  4. Some will change their sales pages as a result of the new FTC rules but I think the majority won’t to comply…until there are a few convictions…then we’ll see a huge scurry of change.

    Has there been any convictions yet – I assume not?



  5. Personally, I’m glad to see that swamp of shysters who are scrambling, panicking and wondering where to make their next buck from. Real marketers don’t need disclaimers.

  6. This was interesting. I was just reading how, when writing copy for restaurants, testimonials, awards, and reviews are useless. Awards can be bought. Reviews are so biased on individual taste that they don’t matter (ever watch Iron Chef and disagree with the judges? There are only three “professionals” and they can’t even agree among themselves most of the time.) And testimonials? Who’s going to believe them?

    The proposed best way is to conjure the prospect’s imagination using past experiences by leaving out details of the specific dish. Instead mention “a tender steak done to perfection” (Is that rare? medium? well-done? It’s up to the prospect) Then talk about the cooking techniques… sizzling over a hot charcoal fire.

    And finish up with atmosphere to touch the emotions… a romantic dining experience that will connect you with your loved one for an unforgettable night.

    In fact, it’s rare that testimonials do much of anything to build my desire. Maybe I’m just jaded.

    But mix trust and a great description of a product I want that touches my imagination of getting my dreams. That sells me.

  7. Uh, I ignore politics completely.

    Is this related to a law that was just passed? Can someone give me a link to a brief summary?

  8. Thanks for the helpful post, Barry. The proof will be in the enforcement, but a couple of high-profile prosecutions should get everyone’s attention.

    In my mind one of the biggest benefits of the Web is that it’s forcing marketers to become more transparent. The FTC’s ruling will only accelerate that trend, which is a good thing for consumers and ethical marketers alike.

  9. Very timely post Barry! The new FTC rules will hopefully level the playing field more, opening up more opportunities to the honest, hardworking people. It’s also actually made me feel better, because I don’t do all the things scammers do, and it’s okay (rewarded by FTC in a sense).

    Well yeah they might be earning lots of money, but I don’t care because I want to be able to sleep at night. And I don’t want to lie to my customers because I won’t remember every single lie that I make.

    I always ask myself this question: if I were to do this in real life instead of the Internet, would I still do it? When you put the reality context into the virtual world, things begin to be much clearer.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  10. I believe it will strengthen those who already tell the truth, but the scammers won’t die – they never do – they just smell that way. However, people may get more adept at sniffing out the cons.

  11. How exciting! I’m sure that these tough new guidelines will be every bit as effective as the national do-not-call registry. Every since that went into effect, thousands of tele-spammers were fined and jailed worldwide and almost no one has received a single unsolicited telemarketing call since! Yea for bureaucracy!

  12. Instead of an 81-page Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, the FTC could have just tweeted: #FF @copyblogger @thirdbribe

  13. @Ryan, that’s not totally true — the FTC can and will sue businesses outside the U.S. if they have U.S. customers, and they have brought businesses down in the past. There are always safe harbors for criminals, but I’ve seen a lot of Canadian marketers think they’re exempt — they’re not.

    @lol, while I appreciate the snarky sentiment, the do-not-call list actually did cut down a ton of calls. We still get junk calls, but it’s a lot better than it was. Phone spammers are getting steep fines and paying them. Although even I (and I hate telemarketers with a white-hot passion) don’t think they need to go to jail. 🙂

    My guess is the guidelines will have no impact at all on true black-hat marketers, but they’ll shape up the gray hats.

  14. Personally, I’ve never believed any testimonials I see on the Internet. I tend to assume they’re all fake. Have I been excessively cynical all along? (That’s a hypothetical question, by the way…)

  15. @Ryan Cooper – You point about Americans moving servers offshore is incorrect. When the US outlawed online gambling, several US principals of online casino operations located in Costa Rica thought that… now they’re in US Federal prison.

    As for the US law not applying to non-US citizens, as Sonia says, if you’re in any way marketing to US citizens (and most are), the FTC can get you through various treaties and agreements with just about every other nation on the planet.

    Will some people still try? Of course. The difference between “real” criminals and online marketing hucksters is the “real” criminals know the law, while the hucksters are just ignorant and lazy.

    My worry is that honest online marketers who rely on the opinions of the uniformed when guiding their decisions may unintentionally cross the wrong line. If you’re running any kind of business, you should rely on proper legal counsel for guidance, not blog comment sections or even blog posts.

  16. This whole subject would be a great niche for a lawyer to tackle. Create an ebook/course on complying with FTC Disclosure regs on your blog.

    P.S. – NO!!! Not the shaking hands stock photo again!!! Can’t get away from that thing. It’s everywhere. It’s the “comic sans” of stock photography!!!

  17. @Steve, be nice or I’ll run that one of the hands holding a little clod of earth and a baby plant. You’ve been warned!


  18. Fantastic post.

    Heck, I’ve even created a new blog just for the purpose of showing my industry, the franchise industry, how it’s done.

    Transparency is the key. (In my industry, I call it “fransparency”) dot com.

    Those of us that just do the right thing in business, and in life are embracing the FTC’s rules.

    The others are running. As they should be.

    The Franchise King®

    • @ The Franchise King®

      What is the law regarding registetered trademarks(TM) and (R)

      There are so many websites which claim trade marks they have not registered, and others that show endorsements from companies which have no dealings with them at all.

      I was under the impression it was a criminal offence to make a claim of a non existent trademark ?

      • Trademarks come into existence under common law as soon as you use the mark in commerce. That’s when you use TM.

        Registering the trademark (under U.S. law) gives you additional remedies. That’s when you use ®.

        Registering is better, but not required, to sue someone for trademark violations.

  19. Be nice or I’ll run that one of the hands holding a little clod of earth and a baby plant.

    YOU be nice! I think I used that one before. 😉

  20. Anyone dishonest enough to cook up testimonials most likely won’t pay much attention to these rules. And, I doubt FTC has time to mess with little guys. Can’t see how this will have any noticeable effect.

  21. Great article about the new guidelines. I think this will be awsome for the future of online marketing. In a world that has sooo many fake and false advertisments, I am hoping this will impact those snakes of salesman that need to be put out of the scene.


  22. Hi, Just a niggly point but I’m UK based. To me FTC could mean the Fair trade council, I presume you mean Federal Trade Commission. Could you not assume your readers know what abbreviations are, I was always taught you should always qualify abbreviations the first time you used them. Something I’ve always adhered to.
    I think the point about these guidelines being applicable in the States but not elsewhere is salient. How are they planning to police such rules on the internet? Surely the unscrupulous will simply move abroad?

  23. Sending spam email has been illegal for many years. Selling drugs and ED products online has been illegal for years. Pretending to be a particular person when you are someone else has been illegal for years. Selling one product online and charging for 5 is illegal. Yet, all these practices remain and people can do little about it.

    The FTC rules may cause “Thousands of fly-by-night marketers [to] simply stop marketing — because they’re unable or unwilling to tell the truth.”

    More likely though, offenders will become surreptitious about it, lowering their profile so as to avoid detection or making detection less easy. They will lower their profile, be willing to move their virtual location and ignore the FTC rules with impunity.

    But if you have a profile, a set place of doing business, the FTC rules will apply.

    The will always be scofflaws and this will be one of those areas where scofflaws will gather, like moths to an outside night light.

  24. You make good points. We will all need to be careful, but it can be a good thing to cut down on the excessive hype and recommendations by insiders. It will be interesting to see if we see any real change in the market place.

    Don McCobb

  25. @Brian Clark, not only did you run it before, I’m pretty sure it was on one of my posts. And I know I’ve done something on RC with it. I actually think it’s a nice image. I suppose these things become clichés for a reason. 🙂

    @Sage, I think one can be “gray hat” out of laziness rather than real malice.

    @Jim, there will always be too many offenders to catch. But I wouldn’t assume there will be no fallout. Every traditional “IM” (Internet Marketing) guy I know is extremely cautious about the FTC. And it’s those guys — not con artists, but they sometimes spin their story to the point of being misleading — who I think will either change or retire.

  26. My question is, how will the FTC know if a testimonial is true or not? How will they know that you own a product and use it? Sounds like a gray area to me. I’m not worried about it, I only sell products I use and love. Plus, I don’t use testimonials, I find them useless. I’m just wondering what good any of this will really do?

  27. Richard, the FTC make you prove whether it’s true or not. All it takes is for enough to complain about you to trigger an investigation. Further, the issue is not just “truth” of a particular testimonial, it’s how you use them within the overall context of your copy. You can consult with an attorney of your choice if you need more information.

    And testimonials are a highly effective form of social proof, which is one of the biggest influences on purchasing decisions. I wonder why you find them useless?

  28. Just a niggly point but I’m UK based. To me FTC could mean the Fair trade council, I presume you mean Federal Trade Commission.

    Sorry Cathy, point taken. We should have defined the first instance of the acronym as Federal Trade Commission.

    I think the point about these guidelines being applicable in the States but not elsewhere is salient. How are they planning to police such rules on the internet? Surely the unscrupulous will simply move abroad?

    Now if I may niggle a bit in return, can you please read the rest of the comments before commenting? We’ve addressed that twice already.

    Fair enough trade-off, right? 😉

  29. We are a nation of cynics, skeptics, and disbelievers. Does anyone believe politicians will keep their promises — about anything? Would anyone stake their life on what they just read in the New York Times, The Washington Post, or saw on CNN or FOX?

    Um… Yes, and yes.

    Disclaimer: I’m an informed, intelligent, educated human being.

    To the first, I do believe that some politicians keep their promises. They may not all have a good reputation, but don’t generalize and tar everyone with the same brush. (Keep in mind I’m Canadian, so maybe things are a little different up here with promises made and kept.)

    To the second, people stake their life on what they read in newspapers every day. They take certain prescription medications, or they adjust their driving habits, or they feed their kid this or that. They carry new weapons to protect themselves as they walk at night on the street or they buy this product or that to enhance safety at home.

    Sometimes, what people follow is good, and great for them. Sometimes, it’s bad. Really bad. People die because of what they read in the paper and follow as advice.

    This isn’t to say the rest of the post wasn’t interesting or good, you’ll note. Just saying I don’t agree with those statements.

  30. Barry, thanks for the great commentary and analysis on this issue. I think the bottom line is exactly how you wrote it: transparency will improve the quality (for lack of a better term) of marketing. Yes, we are all cynics, but that doesn’t mean that should be the default standard of all things.

  31. Brian,
    “Now if I may niggle a bit in return, can you please read the rest of the comments before commenting? We’ve addressed that twice already.”
    Fair point although I had actually read the comments so I’ll blame it on tiredness. (I’m a working mum of 3 and posted just after I’d brought the kids home!)
    Thank you for not pointing out the irony that, in a comment moaning about non qualification of abbreviations, I managed to use an unqualified abbreviation! Of course, I meant to say United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland not the UK! My inner pedant would not let it lie!

  32. @ James

    I will defend to the last drop of ink, er, last keystroke on my ailing laptop your right to trust and have confidence in your politicians to keep their campaign promises (though I enjoyed your qualifier: some politicians.)

    Down here, we know it’s all just a game to win votes (no one expects them to keep their promises)–even Obama, to his credit, admitted it.

    As for trusting what you read and hear–I hope you didn’t fall (from a heart attack) for Vioxx or buy toothpaste or dog food (uh, for the dog) that came from China–despite all the great benefits that were written on the label.

    And why those two immediately came to mind, of all the thousands of instances of false or deceptive or purely wrong advertisements and pronouncements, I’ll never know.

    But, let me ask you this, when the label says no-transfat does that mean zero transfat or just 5%.

    And lastly, for the record, I believe every word written on Copyblogger to be the absolute truth–even the comments (though not necessarily if they’re mine).

  33. I agree wholeheartedly. I do believe that you should use the products that are advertised on your site. I also believe people can read between the lies.

  34. @ Barry – Funny guy.

    If you’re asking if I apply critical thinking in my everyday life, then yes, I do. I think that being smart about accepting face-value claims and information doesn’t make a person a cynic, skeptic, or a disbeliever. It simply means I ask questions to gather more information. “Studies say…” What studies? Who wrote them? Why are those authors credible authorities?

    Though, perception is 3/4 of the battle. If you see me as a skeptic for being someone not afraid to ask questions to get more information, then so be it.

    But I think you avoided the question I raised a little bit. You asked, “Does anyone believe politicians will keep their promises — about anything? Would anyone stake their life on what they just read…?”

    I’m saying that yes, there ARE people who do. There are people who do much graver things than buy dog food made in China; they’ll stop taking their heart medication or their mental illness pills.

    I’m not taking issue with your “be smarter about what you read” stance. I agree with it. I’m saying that the paragraph was a bit condescending to those who actually DO believe what they read – and you’re a copywriter. You know there are people out there who believe many, many crazy things without thinking about it.

    But! All that said, may I toss out my truce flag now and say, “Great post!” Hope to read more from you; I like your writing style.

  35. I say good for any attempts to get shysters to stop shystering. That said, I don’t sell anything but entertainment so I don’t think this will have much to do with me.

    Very good information, well-presented, nonetheless.

  36. Barry,

    You need to get out more. There are thousands of suckers born every minute. For every sucker, there is a huckster. People who should know better, still fall for any offer that looks like “an honest and transparent offering of genuine benefits.” …even though it comes from bottom feeders with a gift for getting people to trust them.

    I don’t expect to see much change. The FCC is great at posturing, paperwork and studies. They are utterly worthless at enforcement. They may catch a few and make examples of them, but I don’t look for much. It’s too big an ocean to try and drain with a teaspoon.

    Cynical, yes. Realistic, yes also. The Internet has created a “classier crowd of crooks”. Look in our own IM business and see the vermin that prey on us. Yet, we suckers still fall for the latest class, course, video or e-book that promises to unlock the secrets of the IM universe. We, of all people, should be aware of the scams, but we still get taken to the cleaners.

    I will be watching with bated breath for signs that the FCC can put a dent in false Internet claims.

    That being said, I think it was a heck of a good post and will reach out and touch the people that do need to tweak their sites a little and watch themselves more carefully. Unfortunately, most of those are the good guys anyway, that are just a little ignorant.

    The bad guys will still be weasels, and always will be.


  37. @Darren Scott Monroe … Thanks for the reference. My site does in fact contain several free special reports about the FTC changes plus links to other resources on the subject.

    As for the post and comments in general on this thread, I agree that there will always be con artists. Some of the worst in MLM/networking marketing have taken their skills online to dupe a different market with get-rich-quick and fake cures.

    The FTC changes were a floundering step in the right direction where the commission took its knowledge from dealing with MLM scammers and tried to apply it to Internet marketing. No doubt there will be more changes coming as the FTC updates the roles to reflect tech developments and the courts weigh in for enforcement.

    If I had to modify one thing in the new FTC rules, it would be the way that typical and atypical results are handled. There should be a clear fast-track method for providing verified results that safe harbor those making claims based upon the data.

    As for those who think the FTC’s jurisdiction is limited, the commission does act abroad by treaty and other agreements to pursue those engaged in deceptive trade practices that hurt U.S. consumers. The effectiveness remains limited due to the lack of cooperation in some regions of the world. Yet there are people who have lost everything to the FTC (some sit in prison) for acts they committed abroad. That will only increase over time as the Web is tamed.

    However, there will always be loopholes. For instance, some crooks make a game out of setting up offshore to run illegal online marketing operations, close up shop every few months, and start again using a new front in a different location. Barring tech and international laws that would permit a Judge Dredd to track down culprits internationally in real-time and serve as judge, jury, and executioner, these types of frauds will exist online…just as they do offline.

    Best wishes,

  38. Hi Barry, you mentioned that affiliates will have to be consumers of a product to endorse/review it. What is the reference for this? I assume you are strictly speaking of endorsements and reviews, not all uses of affiliate links. There are plenty of opportunities to promote a product without specifically endorsing or reviewing it.

    Thanks for any clarification you can
    provide. Appreciate the post.

  39. @ Alice

    I believe your assumption is correct to a degree. But I must warn you: I am not Mike Young nor do I play him on TV. For a definitive answer you should address your question to the horse’s mouth (no disrespect, Mike, I assure you).

  40. Just as the music industry made a few very public examples of suing a bunch of mp3 royalty infringers, I’m waiting to see who gets hammered by the FTC. In the long run I think it’s a good thing. Internet marketing has reached the low point where products have become available that have the sole purpose of creating ‘believable’ fake testimonials. I hope those products are the first to go.

  41. Firstly thanks very much for this matter, the FTC rules clarification. Frankly, I’ve been scammed before and this definitely help me (and others) from being spoiled by the unethical and corrupted mindset so called entrepreneur. Personally, I got clarification to report any villain to ‘them’ if the unholy ones breached the rules…one good example the “$$$ back guarantee”…

  42. Hi guys,

    Barry thanks for sharing the information about FTC new guide. I haven’t had a chance to look at the new one. But I most definitely will take a look at it.

    Kind regards,


  43. While I agree with some of the aspects of what is said here, and generally hold myself to the highest ethical standards in my coaching business (I have given unconditional satisfaction guarantees since day 1), I don’t see the FTC Ruling as such a completely harmless thing, for two reasons:

    1) As pertains to testimonials, the onus on small business seems far beyond what is required of Big Business/Big Media, who it appears can continue all day with their celebrity endorsements in TV ads, without putting an equal VISIBILITY notice that this is a paid endorsement, and that the celebrity never uses the (cheap) product except for the commercial…

    When it comes to equal display of typical results, how about we ask beer commercials to display the typical results of – in no particular order – beer belly, alcoholism, vomiting, unsafe/regrettable sex, DUIs, and various related fatalities? Or how about Hospitals? Can we please ask them to have their infection/malpractice/mortality rates mentioned on their brochures and at the entrance?

    I think you can see where this is going, and I don’t mean to sound overly conspiratorial here, however it is a fact that Big Business was just handed a major new tool by the Supreme Court, being given full (political) speech rights = near limitless political ad spending.

    So it bears asking why the FTC saw it fit to train their eye on bloggers, etc. Granted, there are bad apples in internet marketing and related areas. But what about…

    2) the fact that Bog Media apparently can still have all of the material connections it wants (via advertising spends by companies who’s products they claim to be reviewing fairly), with no or nary a disclosure, at best “XYZ co. is an advertiser on this site”.

    The real danger of the new FTC ruling I see in its vagueness, leaving things wide-open to interpretation as to e.g. what is or isn’t a material connection: Is round-robbing RTing by A-listers amongst themselves a form of indirect payback?

    How about tweeting links to your own/others ad-supported posts/pages. Does there need to be a disclosure in the tweet? Etc. etc. I was on a call where Brian Solis interviewed a lady from the FTC, and it appeared that she didn’t really grasp all of the ins-and-outs of affiliate and JV marketing.

    None of this really inspires much confidence, and again, I am don’t see Big Business/Old Media being beyond having purposefully influenced/lobbied or even initiated the drive to this ruling.

    When it comes to Word-of-mouth, is everyone potentially going to be both subject to the FTC rules, as well as spy/enforcer? Which is what has been worrying me more than anything else about this, the opening up of a whole new class of complaint, many of which will likely be frivolous, or placed by competitors. As if our society weren’t litigious enough already.

    And all of this for, as is rightly pointed out, a paternalistic overreach that treats consumers as hapless, and places additional burdens on small business.

    More here: http://bit.ly/ftc2

  44. This is a great discussion and lively debate. If I put aside my SEO mind and business consulting perspective, and just look at it as a consumer, I do hope it makes a difference. I am weary of the inevitable wade through multiple manipulations before finding solid and reputable companies/businesses I can trust as honest with a product or service of quality to deliver. Unfortunately, the more useless sites tend to have a better grip on search engine tactics and rally around the top 20.

  45. Hey Guys,

    In Canada if we introduced new FTC type guidelines, you WOULD be expected to follow them to boot, because like you say we do, we would be marketing to you…

    Personally, the FTC does not have juristdiction in Canada, therefore suing a Canadian, won’t help much since they would need to have a warrant or subpoena for that, basically a huge waste of money.

    Great – let’s take nabbing foreigners over health care.


  46. It would be nice to think that the new FTC rules will level things up, it will certainly help with many of the wild claims and worse coming from the Clickbank brigade, they at least have businesses

    But the rest don’t really care, like a bad smell they will find a way of carrying on which in the end damages the rest of us who want to look after customers and be straight with them

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