The pros and cons of using testimonials in advertising

Testimonials and endorsements are popular marketing tools used by business to add credibility to their claims about the quality or value of the products or services they are trying to sell you.

Ian Turpie testimonial

This ad for AMI nasal spray for erectile dysfunction featured a testimonial from TV star Ian Turpie but landed the company in trouble with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

With the introduction of the Australian Consumer Law there are now express prohibitions against making false or misleading testimonials.

Some of you may remember the campaign by AMI where Ian Turpie spruiked the benefits of AMI’s nasal spray for erectile dysfunction even though he didn’t have the condition.

Not only did the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission take action against AMI, they also instituted proceedings against Colby Co Media and Ian Turpie alleging that the representations in the advertisement were not true.

The decision by the court in this instance serves as a cautionary tale to not only celebrities, but advertising agencies that play an important role in the preparation and the publication of advertisements on behalf of their clients.

In another instance a company paid a $6600 infringement notice and provided a court enforceable undertaking after it published false consumer testimonials on its website.

The ACCC found the testimonials were copied from an unrelated review website, altered and published on the company’s website. Details such as the username of the consumer, the star rating and the name of the removalist company had been altered.

So should publishers allow them? Yes. They are a very successful and emotive tool that engages the consumer.

Otherwise why would companies like Nike, Gillette or Bonds use them? And just think of all the testimonials from celebrities that Jenny Craig uses.

What can publishers and advertising staff do?

Well, they can ensure clients understand the consequences of using testimonials that are not genuine or a truthful representation of the original testimonial.

  • A testimonial shouldn’t be presented out of context or reworded to modify in any way the opinion or experience of the person giving the testimonial.
  • It should accurately reflect the views and experience of the person providing the testimonial.
  • If they want to use a public figure do they have their permission?
  • Don’t use testimonial that originate from overseas.

Genuine testimonials can make a real impression, primarily because they may make consumers feel more confident about your choice. Testimonials from other satisfied consumers can also convince you to buy. However, misleading representations can persuade customers to buy something to their detriment, based on belief in the testimonial.

It is important to be mindful the ACCC can and will pursue individuals who have knowingly been involved and in some cases those advertising agents that drafted the advertisement and the penalties are high – over one million for corporations and over $200,000 for individuals. Keep in mind, the penalties don’t include legal fees or the cost of adverse publicity.

Lianne Richards is the executive director (advertising regulation), The Newspaper Works.

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