Although testimonials and endorsements do not come directly from the advertiser, marketers must ensure they hold documentary evidence to back up any claims they wish to quote in their advertising material, be they from celebrities or members of the public. As such, the same Code rules apply to testimonials and endorsements as any other marketing communications covered by the Code. Most significantly, claims made in a testimonial or endorsement that are likely to be interpreted as factual must not mislead or be likely to mislead consumers.
This recent ASA ruling is a good example of how a testimonial alone does not constitute adequate substantiation of a product or service’s efficacy.
Testimonials must also be genuine, and advertisers must hold contact details from the individuals providing them. Exceptions only apply with regards to obviously fictitious celebrity endorsements, but marketers should be aware that even in these cases, if a genuine endorsement is implied, they may find themselves in breach of the Code.
Read our general advice on testimonials and endorsements.
Here are some more things to consider if you are thinking of including testimonials or endorsements in your advertising:
Privacy, permission, and implied endorsements
Marketers must not publish testimonials without the author’s consent. Ideally, in fact, marketers should hold written permission before implying any personal approval of a product or brand.
Read more detailed advice on privacy.
Matters of opinion
Testimonials expressing opinions can of course be used, but again, any claims within that testimonial that can be measured objectively must be supported by independent evidence verifying that claim. Entirely subjective claims do not usually need to be backed up by evidence, provided it is made clear that the advertiser is expressing an opinion and not stating a fact. Of course, the line between objective and subjective claims is not always entirely clear, and some claims may be considered subjective in some contexts, but objective in others. The ASA assesses this on a case-by-case basis.
See CAP advice on matters of opinion.
Celebrity endorsements constitute something of a balancing act for marketers. On the one hand, they can significantly increase public awareness of and goodwill towards a brand. However, ASA rulings against ads that feature celebrities can generate a lot of adverse publicity for the advertiser concerned, so it’s worth treading carefully.
As with regular testimonials, marketers must ensure that any celebrity endorsements they include in their marketing communications are both genuine and accurate. With regards to accuracy, marketers should remember that claims can be visual as well, and as such photos should not exaggerate a product’s efficacy. Consumers are unlikely to be fooled by production techniques (e.g. hair extensions, digital touching-up) when the subject of the photo is someone in the public eye.
Marketers paying celebrities to endorse their product on social media is permitted, provided the resulting post is clearly identifiable as an ad.
It’s also important to consider if the celebrity lending their endorsement is appropriate for the product being advertised. For example, celebrities who are or who look like they are under 25 are not permitted to feature in alcohol or gambling ads. The same goes for celebrities who may be older but have a strong association with youth culture.
Read more thorough advice on celebrity endorsements.
Marketing communications must not claim that the marketer or their products have been approved, endorsed or authorised by a public or private body if they have not. This also applies to implied endorsements – for example, lettering or logos decorated with a crown could, misleadingly, imply official backing from the Queen.
Read further guidance on official endorsements.