Bills-for-Shills: Too Good to Be Legal


Negative online reviews are a constant thorn in the side of small businesses. But what if you could hire someone to push positive reviews to drive sales?

Too good to be true? The Federal Trade Commission recently settled a case against a so-called bills-for-shills case for $12.8 million for violating the fair-trade provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

In the case, a supplement company hired a marketing company to post fake glowing reviews by non-customers of its appetite suppressant supplement. In a run-of-the-mill deceptive advertising issue, the company made unsubstantiated claims that its supplement would “block the formation of new fat cells.”

But the company’s other marketing practices caused the FTC to go after false reviews for the first time.

According to the FTC:

“… the more intriguing aspect of the case is the company’s use of what the FTC alleges are false five-star reviews on Amazon. Here are just a few examples of what purportedly satisfied customers were supposedly saying about the defendants’ product:

  • “Wow. I’m actually still amazed that it worked way faster than I expected. I have lost 20 pounds by using these amazing capsules. The pills help you with your intake of food, cleans all toxins from your body and does not allow fat or sugar to stick. Highly recommended!”

  • “I used Garcinia Cambogia for few weeks. Feeling great now! Lost about 10 pounds! Amazing and safe product. A very good product! 5 Star!!!”

  • “I am in-love with this product. It is amazingly simple to use but extremely effective. I lost around 8 pounds in roughly weeks of use and best part of it is I don’t get hungry. I have also noticed that I have been feeling amazing every day since I began using the pill. Best of all, I have noticed no negative side effects and have had great weight loss results.”

  • “At first I was skeptical about purchasing these since they aren’t exactly cheap supplements but I can tell you that these supplements really do work and I based my purchase off of findings and research. I have lost 10 pounds in the first week of using these. I will definitely be recommending this to my family and friends.”

Except they weren’t truthful reviews and they weren’t posted by actual purchasers. They were phonies, fabricated by one or more third parties paid by the defendants to generate fake reviews on Amazon – a practice the FTC alleged to be false and deceptive.

***

The message to marketers couldn’t be clearer: The use of bills-for-shills product reviews violates the FTC Act.”

Good endorsement practices include:

  • Disclose whether the endorser received product for free or was paid to endorse the product

  • Disclose whether the endorser is part of a sponsored campaign or is entered into a sweepstakes for endorsing the product

  • Don’t edit an endorsement to change the meaning

  • Endorsers must be actual customers who actually used the product

  • Have scientific evidence to back effectiveness claims (usually for supplements or beauty products)

  • State whether the endorser’s experience is typical or whether results may vary (weight loss commercials generally have this “results not typical” disclaimer)

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