16 CFR § 255.4 - Endorsements by organizations.

§ 255.4 Endorsements by organizations.

(a) Endorsements by organizations, especially expert ones, are viewed as representing the judgment of a group whose collective experience exceeds that of any individual member, and whose judgments are generally free of the sort of subjective factors that vary from individual to individual. Therefore, an organization's endorsement must be reached by a process sufficient to ensure that the endorsement fairly reflects the collective judgment of the organization. Moreover, if an organization is represented as being expert, then, in conjunction with a proper exercise of its expertise in evaluating the product under § 255.3, it must utilize an expert or experts recognized as such by the organization or standards previously adopted by the organization and suitable for judging the relevant merits of such products. (See § 255.1(e) regarding the liability of endorsers.)

(b) Examples:

(1) Example 1. A mattress manufacturer advertises that its product is endorsed by a chiropractic association. Because the association would be regarded as expert with respect to judging mattresses, its endorsement must be supported by an evaluation by an expert or experts recognized as such by the organization, or by compliance with standards previously adopted by the organization and aimed at measuring the performance of mattresses in general and not designed with the unique features of the advertised mattress in mind.

(2) Example 2. A trampoline manufacturer sets up and operates what appears to be a trampoline review website operated by an independent trampoline institute. The site reviews the manufacturer's trampolines, as well as those of competing manufacturers. Because the website falsely appears to be independent, it is deceptive. (See § 255.5.)

(3) Example 3.

(i) A third-party company operates a wireless headphone review website that provides rankings of different manufacturers' wireless headphones from most recommended to least recommended. The website operator accepts money from manufacturers in exchange for higher rankings of their products. Regardless of whether the website makes express claims of objectivity or independence, such paid-for rankings are deceptive and the website operator is liable for the deception. A headphone manufacturer who pays for a higher ranking on the website may also be held liable for the deception. A disclosure that the website operator receives payments from headphone manufacturers would be inadequate because the payments actually determine the headphones' relative rankings. If, however, the review website does not take payments for higher rankings, but receives payments from some of the headphone manufacturers, such as for affiliate link referrals, it should clearly and conspicuously disclose that it receives such payments. (See § 255.5(k)(11))

(ii) Assume that the headphone review website operator uses a ranking methodology that results in higher rankings for products whose sellers have a relationship to the operator because of those relationships. The use of such a methodology is also misleading.