16 CFR § 255.1 - General considerations.

§ 255.1 General considerations.

(a) Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser. Furthermore, an endorsement may not convey any express or implied representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser. (See § 255.2(a) and (b) regarding substantiation of representations conveyed by consumer endorsements.)

(b) An advertisement need not present an endorser's message in the exact words of the endorser unless the advertisement represents that it is presenting the endorser's exact words, such as through the use of quotation marks. However, the endorsement may not be presented out of context or reworded so as to distort in any way the endorser's opinion or experience with the product. An advertiser may use an endorsement of an expert or celebrity only so long as it has good reason to believe that the endorser continues to subscribe to the views presented. An advertiser may satisfy this obligation by securing the endorser's views at reasonable intervals where reasonableness will be determined by such factors as new information about the performance or effectiveness of the product, a material alteration in the product, changes in the performance of competitors' products, and the advertiser's contract commitments.

(c) When the advertisement represents that the endorser uses the endorsed product, the endorser must have been a bona fide user of it at the time the endorsement was given. Additionally, the advertiser may continue to run the advertisement only so long as it has good reason to believe that the endorser remains a bona fide user of the product. (See paragraph (b) of this section regarding the “good reason to believe” requirement.)

(d) Advertisers are subject to liability for misleading or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements or for failing to disclose unexpected material connections between themselves and their endorsers. (See § 255.5.) An advertiser may be liable for a deceptive endorsement even when the endorser is not liable. Advertisers should:

(1) Provide guidance to their endorsers on the need to ensure that their statements are not misleading and to disclose unexpected material connections;

(2) Monitor their endorsers' compliance; and

(3) Take action sufficient to remedy non-compliance and prevent future non-compliance. While not a safe harbor, good faith and effective guidance, monitoring, and remedial action should reduce the incidence of deceptive claims and reduce an advertiser's odds of facing a Commission enforcement action.

(e) Endorsers may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements, such as when an endorser makes a representation that the endorser knows or should know to be deceptive, including when an endorser falsely represents that they personally used a product. Also, an endorser who is not an expert may be liable for misleading or unsubstantiated representations regarding a product's performance or effectiveness, such as when the representations are inconsistent with the endorser's personal experience or were not made or approved by the advertiser and go beyond the scope of the endorser's personal experience. (For the responsibilities of an endorser who is an expert, see § 255.3.) Endorsers may also be liable for failing to disclose unexpected material connections between themselves and an advertiser, such as when an endorser creates and disseminates endorsements without such disclosures.

(f) Advertising agencies, public relations firms, review brokers, reputation management companies, and other similar intermediaries may be liable for their roles in creating or disseminating endorsements containing representations that they know or should know are deceptive. They may also be liable for their roles with respect to endorsements that fail to disclose unexpected material connections, whether by disseminating advertisements without necessary disclosures or by hiring and directing endorsers who fail to make necessary disclosures.

(g) The use of an endorsement with the image or likeness of a person other than the actual endorser is deceptive if it misrepresents a material attribute of the endorser.

(h) Examples:

(1) Example 1.

(i) A building contractor states in an advertisement disseminated by a paint manufacturer, “I use XYZ exterior house paint because of its remarkable quick drying properties and durability.” This endorsement must comply with the pertinent requirements of § 255.3. Subsequently, the advertiser reformulates its paint to enable it to cover exterior surfaces with only one coat. Prior to continued use of the contractor's endorsement, the advertiser must contact the contractor in order to determine whether the contractor would continue to use the paint as reformulated and to subscribe to the views presented previously.

(ii) Assume that, before the reformulation, the contractor had posted an endorsement of the paint to their social media account. Even if the contractor would not use or recommend the reformulated paint, there is no obligation for the contractor or the manufacturer to modify or delete a historic post containing the endorsement as long as the date of that post is clear and conspicuous to viewers. If the contractor reposts or the advertiser shares the contractor's original endorsement after the reformulation, consumers would expect that the contractor holds the views expressed in the original post with respect to the reformulated product and the advertiser would need to confirm that with the contractor.

(2) Example 2. In a radio advertisement played during commercial breaks, a well-known DJ talks about how much they enjoy making coffee with a particular coffee maker in the morning. The DJ's comments likely communicate that they regularly use the coffee maker. If, instead, they used it only during a demonstration by its manufacturer, the ad would be deceptive.

(3) Example 3.

(i) A dermatologist is a paid advisor to a pharmaceutical company and is asked by the company to post about its products on their professional social media account. The dermatologist posts that the company's newest acne treatment product is “clinically proven” to work. Before giving the endorsement, the dermatologist received a write-up of the clinical study in question, which indicates flaws in the design and conduct of the study that are so serious that they preclude any conclusions about the efficacy of the product. Given their medical expertise, the dermatologist should have recognized the study's flaws and is subject to liability for their false statements made in the advertisement. The advertiser is also liable for the misrepresentation made through the endorsement. (See § 255.3 regarding the product evaluation that an expert endorser must conduct.) Even if the study was sufficient to establish the product's proven efficacy, the pharmaceutical company and the dermatologist are both potentially liable if the endorser fails to disclose their relationship to the company. (See § 255.5 regarding the disclosure of unexpected material connections.)

(ii) Assume that the expert had asked the pharmaceutical company for the evidence supporting its claims and there were no apparent design or execution flaws in the study shown to the expert, but that the pharmaceutical company had withheld a larger and better controlled, non-published proprietary study of the acne treatment that failed to find any statistically significant improvement in acne. The expert's “clinically proven” to work claim would be deceptive and the company would be liable for the claim, but because the dermatologist did not have a reason to know that the claim was deceptive, the expert would not be liable.

(4) Example 4. A well-known celebrity appears in an infomercial for a hot air roaster that purportedly cooks a chicken perfectly in twenty minutes. During the shooting of the infomercial, the celebrity watches five attempts to cook chickens using the roaster. In each attempt, the chicken is undercooked after twenty minutes and requires forty-five minutes of cooking time. In the commercial, the celebrity places an uncooked chicken in the roaster. The celebrity then takes from a second roaster what appears to be a perfectly cooked chicken, tastes the chicken, and says that if you want perfect chicken every time, in just twenty minutes, this is the product you need. A significant percentage of consumers are likely to believe the statement represents the celebrity's own view and experience even though the celebrity is reading from a script. Because the celebrity knows that their statement is untrue, the endorser is subject to liability. The advertiser is also liable for misrepresentations made through the endorsement.

(5) Example 5. A skin care products advertiser hires an influencer to promote its products on the influencer's social media account. The advertiser requests that the influencer try a new body lotion and post a video review of it. The advertiser does not provide the influencer with any materials stating that the lotion cures skin conditions and the influencer does not ask the advertiser if it does. However, believing that the lotion cleared up their eczema, the influencer says in their review, “This lotion cures eczema. All of my followers suffering from eczema should use it.” The influencer, who did not limit their statements to their personal experience using the product and did not have a reasonable basis for their claim that the lotion cures eczema, is subject to liability for the misleading or unsubstantiated representation in the endorsement. If the advertiser lacked adequate substantiation for the implied claims that the lotion cures eczema, it would be liable regardless of the liability of the endorser. The influencer and the advertiser may also be liable if the influencer fails to disclose clearly and conspicuously being paid for the endorsement. (See § 255.5.) In order to limit its potential liability, the advertiser should provide guidance to its influencers concerning the need to ensure that statements they make are truthful and substantiated and the need to disclose unexpected material connections and take other steps to discourage or prevent non-compliance. The advertiser should also monitor its influencers' compliance and take steps necessary to remove and halt the continued publication of deceptive representations when they are discovered and to ensure the disclosure of unexpected material connections. (See paragraph (d) of this section and § 255.5.)

(6) Example 6.

(i) The website for an acne treatment features accurate testimonials of users who say that the product improved their acne quickly and with no side effects. Instead of using images of the actual endorsers, the website accompanies the testimonials with stock photos the advertiser purchased of individuals with near perfect skin. The images misrepresent the improvements to the endorsers' complexions.

(ii) The same website also sells QRS Weight-Loss shakes and features a truthful testimonial from an individual who says, “I lost 50 pounds by just drinking the shakes.” Instead of accompanying the testimonial with a picture of the actual endorser, who went from 300 pounds to 250 pounds, the website shows a picture of an individual who appears to weigh about 100 pounds. By suggesting that QRS Weight-Loss shakes caused the endorser to lose one-third of their original body weight (going from 150 pounds to 100 pounds), the image misrepresents the product's effectiveness. Even if it is accompanied by a picture of the actual endorser, the testimonial could still communicate a deceptive typicality claim.

(7) Example 7. A learn-to-read program disseminates a sponsored social media post by a parent saying that the program helped their child learn to read. The picture accompanying the post is not of the endorser and their child. The testimonial is from the parent of a 7-year-old, but the post shows an image of a child who appears to be only 4 years old. By suggesting that the program taught a 4-year-old to read, the image misrepresents the effectiveness of the program.