Customer reviews and ratings are powerful, low-cost marketing tools. Technology now allows marketers to harness this power on a scale that was unimaginable even five years ago. The ability to solicit, capture, and post reviews and ratings is virtually seamless. But it is just as easy to seek shortcuts or abuse the system. In response, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has devoted resources to addressing consumer review fraud, including through public education. Early in the year, it issued nonbinding guidance for both marketers and online review platforms, warning against potentially deceptive acts, such as faking, manipulating, or suppressing online reviews, as well as paying for higher rankings from purportedly “independent” consumer ranking websites. Online reviews should reflect customers’ honest opinions. So how does the FTC suggest you get there?

Continue Reading A Sign of the Times: Federal Trade Commission Releases Guidance on Consumer Reviews

On Monday the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued a cease-and-desist order to Kim Kardashian for failing to disclose that she received $250,000 to promote EthereumMax’s digital tokens, “EMAX tokens,” on social media.

The SEC considers the EMAX token to be an investment contract, a type of security under the SEC’s jurisdiction. EMAX tokens are available for public trading on cryptocurrency exchanges, and the SEC found that purchasers would have had a reasonable expectation of profits from their investment in EMAX tokens as a result of the efforts of the company behind the token.

Continue Reading Keeping Up with Disclosures: SEC Punishes Kim Kardashian for Crypto Promotion

Last week, the National Advertising Division (NAD) held its annual conference. The wide array of speakers covered a broad range of topics, from the metaverse to dark patterns, social justice, environmental claims, and (as always) substantiation and disclosures. Multiple speakers from the Federal Trade Commission also presented and gave insight into the FTC’s current priorities.

The regulators. Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, made clear that the agency is closely tracking practices it believes result in consumer economic harm and consumer surveillance and privacy issues. He made clear that the Commission is not shying away from seeking big ticket monetary relief against national well-known advertisers, and intends to hold individuals and executives responsible for their companies’ advertising practices. In addition, Serena Viswanathan, FTC’s Associate Director in the Division of Advertising Practices, highlighted the Commission’s focus on disclosure issues as well as endorsements and reviews, such as review solicitation and aggregation, and product ranking websites.

Continue Reading Takeaways from NAD 2022: The FTC’s Enforcement Priorities, New Technologies, Dark Patterns, and the Usual Suspects

Webinar | June 28, 2022 | 2:30 – 3:00 p.m. ET | REGISTER

Venable partners Len Gordon and Alexandra Megaris will present “What You Need to Know About FTC’s Proposed Changes to Its Endorsement Guides.” The Endorsement Guides, first issued in 1980 and last amended in 2009, reflect the Commission’s interpretation of how the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission’s May 2022 open meeting, Alvaro Bedoya’s first since being sworn in as the agency’s fifth commissioner on May 16, considered a request for public comment on proposed amendments to its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. After a staff presentation on commissioners’ proposed updates and statements, the agency unanimously approved the request for public comment.

The Endorsement Guides, first issued in 1980 and last amended in 2009, reflect the commission’s interpretation of how the FTC Act applies to endorsements and testimonials in advertising. Proposed updates to the guides include the following:

Continue Reading FTC Approves Request for Public Comment on Updates to Endorsements and Testimonials Guides

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued Notices of Penalty Offenses regarding for-profit education, endorsements and testimonials, and money-making opportunities. Prior to this year, the FTC had used its Penalty Offense authority only once in this century. So why the sudden rebirth? In this webinar, Venable attorneys examined the FTC’s authority in this area, the substance of the notices, and their broad implications.

What Is a Penalty Offense?

Under the Penalty Offense authority, the FTC can seek civil penalties against a company or individual if it proves that they had actual knowledge that the FTC had already issued a written decision (after an administrative trial) against another entity that the same conduct was unfair or deceptive in violation of Section 5(m)(1)(b) of the FTC Act. Section 5 enables the FTC to hold the person, partnership, or corporation liable for a civil penalty of up to $43,792 per violation.

In the last few weeks, the FTC has sent out three different notices. The purpose of these notices was to allow the FTC to argue that the recipients had actual knowledge that the FTC had previously ruled certain acts or practices to be unfair or deceptive. Each of the letters specifies that the FTC is not singling out recipients or suggesting recipients are violating the law, which signifies that this is part of an effort to effect broad changes in industry behavior.

Continue Reading FTC’s Notice of Penalty Offenses: What Do They Mean for You?

Just days after the FTC announced that it was resurrecting its Penalty Offense Authority to crack down on for-profit higher education institutions’ false promises about graduates’ career opportunities and earnings prospects, the FTC is invoking this authority to “blanket[] industry with a clear message” about fake online reviews and other deceptive endorsements.

The FTC has revived this dormant authority—the latest example of its creative use of different enforcement tools to obtain monetary relief in the wake of the Supreme Court’s AMG opinion—to hold companies accountable, via significant financial penalties, for unfair and deceptive business practices.

As we previously wrote, former FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra had championed the use of this authority and identified for-profit colleges as one possible industry for use of this enforcement tool, while identifying other targets like multilevel marketing programs, gig economy networks, and fake review and influencer fraud.

The FTC now has quickly turned its attention to fake online reviews and other deceptive endorsements, sending a Notice of Penalty Offenses to more than 700 companies, representing an array of leading retailers, consumer product companies, and ad agencies. In doing so, the Commission advises recipients of significant potential civil penalties—up to $43,792 per violation—they could incur if they use endorsements in ways that were found to be illegal in FTC administrative decisions rendered in the 1940s through the 1980s. Under Section 5(m) of the FTC Act, the FTC can obtain penalties against other entities not party to the original proceeding if it can show the entity had actual knowledge that the act had been found to be unfair or deceptive. However, the FTC points out that a company’s inclusion on the list of recipients is not an indication the company has acted illegally.

Continue Reading FTC “Blankets Industry” with Notice of Penalty Offenses Concerning Deceptive Reviews and Endorsements

An increasing number of celebrities and social media personalities are endorsing the use of cannabidiol (CBD) products through social media. Many of these “influencers,” however, fail to take into account and comply with the complex regulatory environment surrounding CBD advertisements, which can have consequences for CBD companies themselves. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both limit the use of certain language in CBD endorsements. As these advertisements attempt to reach the broadest possible audience, possible violations are especially noticeable to regulators, who have stepped up their enforcement efforts in this area.

What is CBD?

With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, hemp-based CBD products were removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of scheduled substances, thereby decriminalizing the possession of such CBD products. The Farm Bill defines hemp as a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species that does not contain more than 0.3% of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Instead, hemp has significantly higher concentrations of CBD. The legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana in certain states refers to the cannabis plant containing high levels of THC, which may also contain some CBD. Certain states, such as California, have stringent requirements regarding advertising cannabis products, but these rules do not apply to hemp-based CBD products.

Continue Reading CBD Advertisements: What CBD Companies and Celebrity Influencers Need to Know

Customer reviews can be used to promote or protect a brand. Reviews are relied upon by consumers when making any purchase. On March 26, Alexandra Megaris and Deborah Bessner hosted a webinar on “Customer Reviews: The Dos and Donts.” The webinar focused on a number of pressing topics surrounding customer reviews, including endorsements and testimonials,