Testimonial use in MLMs

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We already know that MLM often sell products with absurd health claims. Health claims that are not allowed by law. See here, here, and here about the laws around what health claims are allowable.

People in MLM schemes end up with products that are usually overpriced and of little actual use. The only way they can sell these products is to exaggerate their uses and make it sound like it has magical qualities. Have a look at TINA’s findings of false health claims made by MLMs.

Hence, you see posts like this on Facebook-

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However, these sorts of claims are frowned upon by the law, advertising authorities and the companies themselves. The companies tell their reps, outwardly at least, that they must not make health claims. They have compliance departments that are supposed to be finding these claims and asking their reps to stop.

If these wildly inacurate and illegal claims are not allowed, how are people supposed to sell them?

Juice Plus have come up with a great idea. Share testimonials. Then people are not making claims, they are just sharing stories. Here is an email from their compliance department to a Bot Watcher.

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“If someone has seen that the product has helped them with a specific condition, then we encourage them to tell their story in the first person”.

 

“share this story with your readers or tag them in the post.”

 

 

From this belief sprung the Juice Plus Testimonials page on Face Book. Here, people tell stories about how they took Juice Plus and their health condition improved. Here is a selection of some of those testimonies-

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You can find any medical condition there and use their stories to put on your own page if you are selling Juice Plus and want to make health claims without actually making health claims. Reps end up discussing their customers and working out which of their products to recommend. Totally not making any health claims though. Here’s an example of one such discussion.

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Well there you  go, The shakes must be ok in pregnancy, the rep says so. Even though she has no training. I’ve looked up the ingredients to see if there is any vitamin A in the shakes. There isn’t. Vitamin A can be found in their capsules, but not the shakes. I did find something interesting though. There was a link to click that was labelled

“California residents: Click here for Proposition 65 WARNING.”

I don’t live in California but thought I’d click anyway. This is what I found

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The shakes can cause birth defects. This is pretty serious and it concerns me greatly that reps are telling other reps and customers that it is safe because they used it and they were ok.

It should be pretty obvious that sharing testimonials is a very bad idea. We don’t know the truthfulness of these claims and they could be very harmful. People may try and come off their medications, or have false hope for their condition. There are many, many conditions catered for on the Facebook page and shared widely.

The Law in the UK

Section 15 of the non-broadcast CAP advertising code states what sort of claims can be made for foods or food supplements.

 

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So claims that Juice plus capsules can replace anti depressants would not be allowed. The claims that can be made are very clearly set out I these registers. But what about personal testimonies? Is it ok for someone to say that a product has helped with a condition?

There are some general rules that marketers must comply with when sharing testimonials-

  1. The marketer cannot be the consumer and give their own testimonial.
  2. The marketer must have written permission from the person making the testimonial.
  3. The marketer mush hold evidence the claim is true- evidence of the ordering history, email records (not Hotmail, but a provable email address), address of the customer and be able to prove the testimonial is genuine.

 

This next bit is very interesting, found on this page on the CAP website.

“Marketers may not use testimonials to circumvent the Code by making claims in a consumer review that they would not otherwise be permitted to make. For example, if a marketer doesn’t hold the evidence to substantiate an efficacy claim, they cannot use a testimonial which makes that claim.

Testimonials alone do not constitute substantiation so marketers should not rely on testimonials as support for any direct or implied claims made in the marketing communication.”

What claims are Juice Plus allowed to make?

I asked the MHRA who regulate medicines and supplements in the UK if any health claims are allowed to be made by Juice Plus (and Ariix and Herbalife). This is their reply

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Essentially, this means no health claims can be made for products from Juice Plus.

I told them about the Juice Plus Testimonials page and one of their investigators joined and had a look. They were very concerned about the sort of posts there and wanted to inform Trading Standards about the group. Unfortunately though, they realised the page originated in America so they could not do anything about it.

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I never heard back about anything Facebook said. The page still exists so I am assuming they took no notice.

 

Conclusions

If you can’t make a claim for a product legally, you cannot get around it by using a testimony.

Making health claims that are not proven or allowed could lead people to believing it and ditching their medicines/ treatment. This could lead to significant harm.

If you sell a product, you cannot make your own testimonies when advertising it.

The strict rules around allowable claims are there for a reason, do not break them just so you can make a bit of money. Especially if you are taking advantage of ill people, this is despicable.

 

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