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Be Careful What You Say About Your Product Features and Benefits – Don’t Get Caught by the Feds
In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised its guidelines that govern marketer recommendations and reviews. The timing of the revision is notable – the previous guidelines were from 1980, before anyone had even heard of the Internet, let alone Facebook. Your online marketing may have the best intentions, but any overselling efforts could get flagged by the feds.
Why the FTC Updates and Changes?
1) Not everything online is yours
Celebrity pictures or endorsements. Think a photo of Beyonce or Tim Tebow will grab attention and boost your brand image? Or maybe you want to use a classic rock song as the background for your YouTube video? At best, you could seek a cease and desist, and at worst, a copyright infringement lawsuit. When it comes to endorsements, it goes without saying that using someone’s image in your marketing implies an endorsement that may not exist. If you opt for a real endorsement, the FTC’s detailed guidelines cover honesty of opinion, reliability of claims, and celebrity disclosure as a paid spokesperson.
Misdemeanors on social networks. For a glimpse of how social media has changed the face of marketing, just look at what the FTC is looking at these days. According to Mashable , some questionable practices that have caught the agency’s attention include “flogging,” which consists of blogs that exist solely to promote a product or service; and “astroturfing,” in which fake customers post misleading or biased reviews on sites like Yelp.
2) Assertions require justification
Marketing claims. “Natural”… “organic”… “green.” Such words can bring up images of environmentally friendly, sustainable and chemical products. But sprinkling unsubstantiated claims can get you into trouble, as Neutrogena recently found out. A cosmetics company has been hit with a $1.8 million collective fine for labeling some of its skin care products as “natural” when they contained what the suit called “chemically derived, synthetic fragrances.”
When it comes to “green” marketing claims, the FTC wants you to provide “competent and reliable evidence” of your claim in the form of reliable scientific evidence, defined as tests, analyses, research, studies, or other evidence, when you claim your product is ” green.”
Good, better and best. The subtle wording of parity requirements represents an established form of marketing. Take brand X’s claim that “no battery lasts longer”. Does this mean brand X batteries will last longer than brand Y batteries? No; batteries are generally the same regardless of brand. According to the parity claim, “no battery lasts longer” simply means that brand Y (and every other brand) is likely to last as long as brand X – but not longer.
Marketing abounds with Parity claims: “No pain reliever works faster.” “Get the best chocolate taste.” The FTC generally does not care about “best” parity claims. But a claim of superiority, that it is “better” than a competitor, must be supported by accurate and unbiased evidence.
Some companies push the good/better/best line too far. When Ford once claimed its car was “700% quieter,” the FTC asked for an explanation. Ford had to admit that they meant the inside of the Ford was 700% quieter than the outside – not a very convincing claim!
Create your content carefully
The vast majority of traders are never cited by the authorities, so running a clean campaign is not that difficult. When you describe your features and benefits carefully—giving an accurate description without overselling or using unethical tactics—you’ll increase your company’s credibility while driving new business.
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