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6 Ways for Affiliate Managers to Achieve FTC Compliance

Last Modified: February 13, 2023

The new year is a great time to advertise and promote supplement products because many people set new health goals every year. Health and weight loss are the most common New Year’s resolutions, according to a recent Forbes Health survey. Promoting health supplements at the start of a new year is a great time to appeal to consumers eager to improve their health.

As you plan those promotions, it is wise to remember that health products are regulated. Use these suggestions to keep your campaigns running smoothly.

Why Following FTC Guidelines Matters

Ensuring your campaigns align with guidelines when promoting supplements as an affiliate is vital for several reasons.

  • Reduce the chance of lawsuits: The FTC has filed lawsuits (e.g., 2015 FCC announcement) against supplement companies in the past. Lawsuits can impose a significant expense on supplement companies. Even if you win in court, the costs could be considerable. The California Business Journal recently estimated a simple lawsuit could cost $10,000. A lawsuit with the FTC could be much more expensive.
  • Protect your reputation: An FTC lawsuit or warning could significantly harm a company’s reputation with consumers. Following FTC guidelines proactively is the better choice. Years of hard work building goodwill with consumers and affiliates could suffer if your company faces a lawsuit.
  • Keep your company focused: Responding to FTC warnings and lawsuits takes up time, resources, and money you could apply to promoting your products. By following the guidelines proactively, you can focus your effort on ethical promotion.

Essential Guidelines for Advertising Supplements

Note that we are not providing legal advice. Instead, this section offers information about FTC expectations as expressed in Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry. If you have specific legal questions, please consult a qualified legal professional. We will focus on FTC (Federal Trade Commission) expectations for simplicity, but some companies may also need to consider FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requirements.

1. Express and implied claims

In general, the FTC expects that all advertising be truthful and accurate. It is helpful to understand the difference between express and implied claims to meet that expectation.

An express claim is a direct statement about the product or its effectiveness. For example, an advertisement for a skincare supplement might state, “Ninety percent of dermatologists regularly take the product.” In this case, the FTC would expect the company to provide proof to back up the claim (i.e., back up the 90 percent figure with a survey of dermatologists).

The concept of implied claims is a bit more subtle. For example, a company might promote a product named “No More Colds” and depict people coughing or sneezing in the ad. The ad implies that the product can cure or mitigate colds in this situation..

It is also important to disclose qualifying information in advertisements. For example, a product might help people with a specific vitamin deficiency. However, if only one percent of the population has that deficiency, it could be misleading to imply that everyone would benefit from using the product. Presenting qualifying information is therefore recommended.

Finally, it is essential to note that the FTC considers ads on a “net impression” basis. That means you have to consider the overall impression the ad conveys, not just individual elements.

2. Substantiating claims

Everything claimed in an ad should be supported by specific evidence. It is not good enough to vaguely state “studies say” or even “university studies say.” Instead, you need to be prepared to show a specific study that backs up your claim.

Meeting FTC expectations in this area can be challenging. The FTC generally considers “well-controlled human clinical studies” among the best forms of evidence. In some cases, animal studies may also be used.

3. Evidence in advertising

Evidence in advertising

Keep the following principles in mind when considering if your claims are supported by evidence.

  • Type and amount of evidence: Aim for high-quality scientific evidence. The FTC does not consider anecdotes from consumers to be scientific evidence.
  • Quality of evidence: A few specific factors (e.g., duration of the study, number of study participants, controlled circumstances) increase the quality of the evidence.
  • The totality of the evidence: Consider what other studies say. For example, a six-week study might support your claim, but a 12-week study may find different results.
  • Relevance of evidence: The evidence used needs to be relevant to the claim. For example, an ad about calcium should reference evidence about calcium specifically.

4. Using customer testimonials in advertising

You have an honest testimonial from a consumer. Time to celebrate and use it in your advertising, right? Not so fast! Relying exclusively on consumer testimonials to support your claims is not generally accepted by the FTC.

Fortunately, it is still permitted to use consumer testimonials in supplement advertising. The caveat is that it is wise to put the testimonial into context. For example, “Jane Smith lost 10 pounds in 30 days. Note: average weight loss is four pounds, and results may vary.” The FTC generally expects disclaimers to be clear and easy to read — so don’t think about burying them in tiny print.

5. Using expert comments and endorsements

Comments from experts can be helpful in advertising. Once again, there are FTC limitations to keep in mind here. An expert endorsement needs to come from a person with adequate qualifications to make a claim. For example, quoting a dentist about a non-dental supplement would probably not meet FTC expectations.

Fortunately, you may have already made a list of studies based on points two and three above. In that case, consider contacting the researchers behind those studies. In that situation, it would be clear that your expert has relevant expertise.

6. FTC expectations on disclaimers

Disclaimers have been used in advertising for a long time. Unfortunately, some people have misused this concept. Start by stating the facts, such as, “This product has not been evaluated by the FDA.” It is also not permitted to make unsubstantiated claims and seek to protect yourself with disclaimers.

What To Do Now

Take a proactive approach to ensuring FTC compliance. in your affiliate campaigns. To save time, use the following techniques to double-check your compliance.

  1. Review and update policies and introductions for affiliates.
    Review the FTC guidelines on advertising in-depth (especially the examples), and check if your company policies and materials for affiliates meet these expectations.
  2. Conduct random spot checks of affiliates.
    Your affiliates represent your brand, so carrying out periodic spot checks of advertising materials is a bright idea. Set up a sampling process to test your affiliates. For example, a company with 1,000 affiliates might choose to test 50 affiliates each year. Consider sending an email to all affiliates to notify them of what you find.
  3. Provide warnings to affiliates who fail to follow FTC requirements.
    Some affiliates, especially newer ones, may make mistakes in following FTC guidelines. Provide a written warning with a clear direction on what the affiliate has to change. Follow up after one to two weeks to check if the affiliate has made changes. If the affiliate ignores your warning, consider suspending them from your affiliate program for a while to reinforce your expectations.
  4. Celebrate best practices.
    While enforcement is essential, it’s not the whole story. Make sure you also recognize affiliates who do well in their marketing, while following guidelines, to inspire other affiliates. Such examples will demonstrate to affiliates that they can succeed while staying aligned with FTC expectations.

How To Save Time Managing Affiliate Campaigns

Growing a health supplement company takes time and effort. You’re probably investing significant time and research into developing great products.

Managing your influencers and affiliates doesn’t have to be a time-consuming task. Use Refersion to streamline managing affiliate onboarding, payment, and reporting. You can try Refersion for free by clicking here.

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Written by

Ruthie Carey
Ruthie Carey