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FTC Guidelines Apply to Healthcare & Medical Testimonials

"Testimonials" text on green background in the middle of a puzzleTestimonials--still an effective technique--but, more than ever, watch what you say and how you say it. Bloggers and celebrities included.

The last time the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated its guidelines regarding the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising was a mere 30 years ago.

Many forms of medical practice marketing and advertising—cosmetic procedures, plastic surgery, dental marketing, for example—now have tighter standards regarding how they present endorsements by consumers, experts, organizations, and celebrities.

Recently the FTC dusted off and revised the 1980 guidelines, with some of the changes and specific illustrations related to doctor advertising and medical products. (They also now extend to bloggers…a yet-to-be-invented word three decades ago.)

An important change under the revised guidelines is about "typical results" (from cosmetic dentistry for example): “…advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect."

In contrast to the 1980 version of the Guides – which allowed advertisers to describe unusual results in a testimonial as long as they included a disclaimer such as “results not typical” – the revised Guides no longer contain this safe harbor. [FTC Release]

Celebrity endorsements and patient testimonials are common  in advertising for allergists, cardiology, dermatology, weight loss, dentists, and others—including both cosmetic and non-cosmetic procedures. And they can be persuasive and effective, but as always, they need to be used with care and compliance.

Further, according to the FTC, “The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be
disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers.”

It’s all interesting reading for anyone responsible for healthcare marketing, physician practice advertising, hospitals and medical products. Click through to the FTC Guidelines here, FTC16 CFR Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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