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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FTC to strengthen advertising and endorsement guidelines against fraudulent reviews

Federal Issues FTC Endorsements Advertisement Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Disclosures

Federal Issues

On May 19, the FTC announced it is considering changes to strengthen its advertising guidelines to address fake and manipulative reviews, as well as concerns over inadequate disclosure tools. The Commission unanimously voted to submit a notice of proposed changes to its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” (Endorsement Guides), which were enacted in 1980 and amended in 2009. Under the Endorsement Guides, advertisers are required “to be upfront with consumers and clearly disclose unexpected material connections between endorsers and a seller of an advertised product.” In February 2020, the FTC issued a request for comments on, among other things, whether the Endorsement Guides are effective at addressing concerns in the marketplace, as well as issues related to social media disclosures, incentive reviews, and affiliate links. According to the Commission’s announcement, the proposed changes (i) warn “social media platforms that some of their tools for endorsers are inadequate and may open them up to liability”; (ii) clarify that the Endorsement Guides cover fake reviews; (iii) add a new principle, which provides that “in procuring, suppressing, boosting, organizing, or editing consumer reviews, advertisers should not distort or misrepresent what consumers think of their products”; (iv) clarify that social media tags are covered by the Endorsement Guides; (v) modify “the definition of ‘endorsers’ to bring virtual influencers—that is, computer-generated fictional characters—under the guides”; (v) provide an example addressing the microtargeting of a discrete group of consumers; and (vi) introduce a new section addressing concerns related to child-directed advertising.

A public event will be hosted by the FTC on October 19 to address topics including “children’s capacity at different ages and developmental stages to recognize and understand advertising content and distinguish it from other content,” and the “need for and efficacy of disclosures as a solution for children of different ages, including the format, timing, placement, wording, and frequency of disclosures.”

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