We covered the practical use of testimonials a few weeks ago, endorsing them, so to speak, as extremely useful in email marketing. Right after publication, the Committee of Advertising Practice produced a Help Note on Testimonials and Endorsements (the Guidelines) which thankfully contain no contradictions of the main thrust of the article.
The Guidelines tend to concentrate on the legal aspect in the main. Although they are advisory only, it would be a brave person who ignored them. They give clear directions on good practice.
The overarching requirements are for the endorsement to be genuine and for the publisher to hold contact details for the person or organisation that is the source. In any challenge, the quote must be shown to be from a ‘real’, independent person. Any endorsement should not mislead or be likely to.
The Guidelines emphasise that the originator of the marketing email (or other communication) should not author a review and then claim to be an independent customer.
Testimonials should only be used with the permission of the author. There have been prosecutions where the author’s consent has not been obtained and also where an image was used without consent.
The delicate nature of proof is covered next, by the suggestion that signed and dated proof is likely to be considered acceptable documentary evidence. However, other documentary evidence has been accepted in the past, such as emails with verifiable addresses, which would appear to negate the likes of gmail and hotmail.
Creative editing and endorsements that do not relate to the product advertised are banned. A clear example is a review of a single track on a record album displayed so as to suggest it applied to the whole album. It would have been permissible to include it if it was made apparent that it did not refer to the album as a whole.
There are specific exclusions. For instance, it is stated that marketers may not use health professionals or celebrities to endorse medicines. There are other restrictions for such products.
You may, of course, pay someone of note, a celebrity or someone with expertise on the matter, to endorse your product on social media, such as Facebook. This can be a cost effective way of advertising if used with imagination and discretion although it must be clear that the comment is an advert.
Where problems have arisen in the past is where the celebrity uses their own account to support a product. Unless it is clear in the text, using #ad is a minimum requirement.
You must be able to prove any claim on an endorsement even if it did not come from you. If someone states that your tent can withstand a force 10 then unless you can prove it has been tested at that wind speed, you cannot publish it.
Vague words or phrases and those open to interpretation should be used with care. If a person mentions pricing, suggesting your product is the best value then this needs substantiation. If the comment was that it was the best value overall, then that is a subtly different claim, and one that will probably be let through.
As mentioned previously, endorsement, celebrity or otherwise, can be an effective email marketing method. Conform to the Guidelines.