Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it (rule 3.45). Showing that a testimonial is genuine has two elements; showing that the quote is from a real person and that it reflects what they said.
Claims within a testimonial must not mislead or be likely to mislead the consumer (3.47). For guidance on making claims in testimonials please see “Claims in testimonials and endorsements”.
Do not pose as a consumer
Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession (Rule 2.3). It is a breach of the Code for a marketer to write reviews of their own products whilst posing as a genuine consumer.
Seek permission to use the testimonial
Marketing communications must not feature a testimonial without permission (Rules 3.45 and 3.48). When seeking permission to use a testimonial, marketers should be aware of their obligations under Section 10: Database practice. The ASA has upheld complaints when marketers have not been able to prove they have the author's consent (Conservatory Outlet Ltd, 20 March 2013) and when a testimonial was wrongly attributed to a complainant whose image was used without consent (Phyto Nature Source, 25 October 2006).
Rule 3.48 allows for some exceptions to the requirement to get permission when making accurate quotes from a published source. Marketers quoting from a published source still need evidence to show that the statements are genuine and accurate (eSmart Media Ltd, 22 January 2014). The ASA ruled that a list of quotes with references to the publications in which they appeared was not sufficient to show that the quotations were from those publications (www.comedyclubbookings.com, 27 March 2013).
Hold documentary evidence
Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it. Signed and dated proof is likely to be considered acceptable documentary evidence, however it is not the only form of evidence that the ASA will consider acceptable. For example, where an advertiser was able to provide copies of the e-mails which contained testimonials, the addresses and the ordering history of the customers, the ASA considered sufficient evidence had been provided to demonstrate that the testimonials were genuine (Monark Global Ltd, 11 December 2013). E-mail testimonials from unverifiable addresses (such as hotmail) would not be acceptable by themselves although the ASA has accepted testimonials in the form of a provable company e-mail address (de Verde Ltd, 28 August 2013).
A combination of email addresses, product information and order numbers, and data from the online payment system which showed product and order information that corresponded with the customer reviews, has been considered sufficient to demonstrate that customer reviews were genuine (Swann Communications (Europe) Ltd, 29 April 2020).
Use testimonials that are relevant to the product
As would you expect, testimonials must relate to the product advertised (Rule 3.46, Home Shopping Selections, 12 December 2007). They should not be taken out of context or edited in a way which is misleading. An ad which used the review of one track on an album in an advertisement for the whole album without attributing the review to the previously released single was found to be misleading (Warner Music UK Ltd t/a Atlantic Records, 23 November 2011). Marketers using testimonials for companies that no longer trade should be careful not to misleadingly imply that they are for other companies and should note that amending testimonials so that they refer to a more recent incarnation of a company will be considered misleading (YorHost, 13 June 2012).
Similarly, if a business uses a testimonial for an individual which relates to their employment with a past employer, this may be considered problematic, particularly if elements mentioned in the testimonial were likely to be effected by the business they worked for at the time (Alpinum Ltd, 12 September 2018).
Beware of restricted product categories
Marketers should be aware that in some circumstances the use of testimonials and endorsements is excluded altogether. Namely, marketers may not use health professionals or celebrities to endorse medicines (rule 12.18) and may not may not make health claims that refer to the recommendation of an individual health professional (rule 15.6.3).
For more information see ‘Health: Celebrities and health professionals’.
Do not incentivise positive reviews
While providing incentives to encourage people to leave genuine, unbiased reviews and testimonials could potentially be considered acceptable, directly and explicitly incentivising consumers to leave positive reviews or testimonials is likely to be considered problematic. For example, the ASA ruled against testimonials in an ad where the advertiser had offered to refund an amount of money back to the consumer for leaving a “nice review” and, similarly, where a promoter had added an additional entry in a promotion, and therefore an increase in the chances of winning, if the consumer left a ‘five star’ review on their Facebook page (Official iPhone Unlock Ltd, 19 September 2018; Vindicta Digital, 26 September 2018).
Ads must not show a trust mark, quality mark or equivalent without the necessary authorisation. A website for home insulation service was considered problematic because it featured the logo of the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA), which provided guarantees for cavity wall insulation fitted by registered installers, but the marketer was not a CIGA registered installer (Titan Insulation Ltd, 8 January 2020).
Marketers must not claim that the marketer or the advertised product has been approved, endorsed, or authorised by any public or other body if it has not, or if it doesn’t comply with the relevant terms (rule 3.50). The ASA upheld complaints about an ad for a therapist who claimed to be BACP accredited, even though she was not longer a member of the BACP ( Ella Kate Reeves, 27 July 2020).
Similarly, ads must not falsely claim that the marketer, or other entity referred to in the marketing communication, is a signatory to a code of conduct. Or claim that a code of conduct has an endorsement from a public or other body (3.51). A website for double glazing stated that the company was a FENSA “Registered Company” and that it was “recommended” by the Energy Saving Trust. The ad included other logos for Certass, the Glass and Glazing Federation and the Double-Glazing Ombudsman Scheme but, because they had not provided any evidence that they were accredited by those organisations or that they were a signatory to any code of conduct required by them, the ads were considered misleading (The Lead Guys Ltd, 30 October 2019).
Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd, 5 December 2012
YorkTest Laboratories Ltd, 20 June 2012