The new year is a great time to advertise and promote supplement products because many people set new health goals yearly. Health and weight loss are the most common New Year’s resolutions, according to a recent YouGov poll.
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.
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., the 2015 FCC announcement) against supplement companies. Cases 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 case 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 promote your products. By following the guidelines proactively, you can focus on ethical promotion.
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. Understanding the difference between express and implied claims is helpful in meeting 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 “No More Colds” and depict people coughing or sneezing in the ad. The ad implies that the product can cure or mitigate colds.
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, implying that everyone would benefit from using the product could be misleading. 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 must consider the ad's overall impression, 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, it would be best if you were 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
Consider the following principles 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., study duration, 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! The FTC does not generally accept relying exclusively on consumer testimonials to support your claims.
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 must come from someone with adequate qualifications to make a claim.
For example, quoting a dentist about a non-dental supplement would probably not meet FTC expectations. But suppose you are to mention a reputable dentist about the cost of veneers. In that case, ensuring the information provided is accurate and in line with industry standards is essential.
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, “The FDA has not evaluated this product.” It is also not permitted to make unsubstantiated claims and seek to protect yourself with disclaimers.
Take a proactive approach to ensure FTC compliance. in your affiliate campaigns. To save time, use the following techniques to double-check your compliance.
- 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.
- Conduct random spot checks of affiliates.
Your affiliates represent your brand, so conducting 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 try 50 affiliates each year. Consider emailing all affiliates to notify them of what you find.
- Provide warnings to affiliates who fail to follow FTC requirements.
Some affiliates may make mistakes in following FTC guidelines, especially newer ones. 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 fellow has made changes. If the affiliate ignores your warning, consider suspending them from your affiliate program to reinforce your expectations.
- Celebrate best practices.
While enforcement is essential, it’s not the whole story. Ensure you also recognize affiliates who do well in their marketing while following guidelines to inspire other affiliates. Such examples will demonstrate to mates that they can succeed while staying aligned with FTC expectations.
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 ordering affiliate onboarding, payment, and reporting. You can try Refersion for free by clicking here.