The wrong way to recruit testimonials

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A recent NBC Dateline expose on deceptive infomercials warned viewers that they can't always trust testimonials: sometimes the "real life stories" are merely paid actors or people saying positive things about a product to get their face on TV.

There was no large-scale product use, no documentation of term use, no statistical significance, no documentation of actual results, no creditable conclusions and the list goes on.

With this kind of negative publicity about deceptive advertising and fake testimonials, one would think the infomercial industry would rally to help ensure consumer confidence - and many have.

However, there are still a number of established production companies allowing deceptive advertising to occur on a regular basis.

Most players in the infomercial business understand that promising compensation for user testimony before it is given is shady at best. But take note: the Federal Trade Commission also considers it a material connection if the testimonial participant knows they are going to be on television before the testimony is given.

According to the FTC, "When the endorser is neither represented in the advertisement as an expert nor is known to a significant portion of the viewing public, then the advertiser should clearly and conspicuously disclose either the payment or promise of compensation prior to and in exchange for the endorsement or the fact that the endorser knew or had reasons to know or to believe that if the endorsement favors the advertised product some benefit, such as an appearance on TV, would be extended to the endorser."

Yet how often do you see shows with either text or voiceovers making such a disclosure? I would risk a bet on never.

A recent ad on craigslist Miami headlined "Make Money Losing Weight," for example, offered compensation of $200 plus eight weeks free training and a free ab machine to people willing with "a pleasant, outgoing personality" who were "comfortable appearing on camera" for a "DRTV campaign for a new fitness product" which would be hosted by "a nationally known television personality."

Recruitment of testimonials for compensation without full disclosure is not an accepted practice by the FTC or industry leaders.

As an industry, infomercial makers should do everything they can to ensure that on-camera testimonials of experience and results are truthful and accurate. The first step towards this is by coordinating testimonial programs that have no perceived material connection before the testimony is given.

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