While the full economic impact of COVID-19 is unknown, the demand—and need— for jobs and work that can be performed from home certainly will increase. Companies offering opportunities to potentially earn income working from home are likely to see an influx in consumer interest—and, of course, likely to ramp up advertising. The FTC always has actively policed the industry, given the challenges inherent in substantiating earnings claims, and will continue to do so during the pandemic. Below are some common advertising pitfalls and general guidelines for avoiding them.
- Earnings Claims Must Be Substantiated and Typical
An earnings claim is a representation of how much money a consumer will make or the level of success a consumer will achieve. Such claims can be either express or implied, and all must be substantiated. This means you must possess information that sufficiently backs up every reasonable takeaway of the ad. In addition, any claim should be typical, which means the average person pursuing the offered opportunity is likely to achieve similar success. It may be tempting to advertise results achieved by the most successful students, but those advertisements are risky. From a regulator’s standpoint, atypical results may mislead consumers into thinking they too will achieve a similar level of success. At a minimum, in order to limit (but not eliminate) the risk, a well-drafted disclaimer should be present.
- Just Say No to Lifestyle Claims
Images of fast cars, boats, expensive houses, etc. in your advertising will be considered “lifestyle claims,” and, from a regulator’s standpoint, they imply that the typical consumer can obtain a level of wealth that supports such a lifestyle if he or she pursues the work-from-home opportunity. Thus, those ads require substantiation; otherwise, they may provide consumers with false or misleading impressions of what the typical consumer could achieve.
- Customer Testimonials
Of course, it makes sense to want to promote your most successful customers who want to tell prospective consumers how great the company is. However, as mentioned above, atypical success stories could cause regulatory issues by creating false impressions of how successful the average consumer could be. Companies should try to focus on qualitative aspects of the program, such as how well it was taught and how responsive the instructors were, rather than focusing on the quantitative aspects, such as how much money the customer providing the testimonial achieved. In addition, we’ll repeat the obvious: All endorsements and testimonials must be truthful, and companies should obtain appropriate releases for the use of the testimonial.
These issues represent the tip of the regulatory iceberg. Stay safe and wash your hands.