The Problem with Testimonials and Before/After Photos

Recently, I’ve seen a flurry of before and after photos from my direct sales friends, showing how their product has helped with weight loss, wrinkle removal, etc. I also just saw a post from someone on a company Facebook Page asking for a testimonial from other distributors for how their product helped cure a certain disease.  Now some testimonials and photos are produced by the company, and that’s fine.  But some are clearly produced by the distributor (in fact I’ve even seen posts asking for these from customers) and these can get distributors…and their companies…into some serious legal hot water.

So today I want to talk to you about customer testimonials and before/after photos online, and your responsibilities when it comes to them.

If you don’t want to read this whole thing, here’s the main point: If your company hasn’t produced it, DON’T POST IT.

Why?  Because the FDA and FTC are very picky when it comes to publishing testimonials.  In fact, distributors and their companies have collectively been fined millions of dollars for breaking the rules. And posting these things to social media sites counts as “publishing” in the eyes of the FDA and FTC.

And the rules, boiled down, are this:  If you don’t have a scientific study that says that your results are typical for everyone in the population of a specific demographic, you can’t print it.  In plain English, this means that if you don’t have a scientific study that says that your product will cure obesity in 40 year old women across the board, you can’t say it helped ANY 40 something woman with obesity. Bottom line: No study, no post.  If your company DOES have that study, they have a testimonial or photos you can use.  If they haven’t given you these, it means they don’t have a study (these cost millions of dollars) and you are NOT ALLOWED to post them.

The FDA says that you can’t claim that your products can diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, unless your product is classified as a drug (yours most likely isn’t).  This includes things like obesity, wrinkles, and any disease you can name.  I’ve written at length about this topic here: http://www.jenfongspeaks.com/youll-pay-millions-in-fines-if-you-violate-these-rules/

So what should you avoid saying?  Things like:

  • Product X helped me lose 20 pounds!
  • You should see these amazing photos!  My product removed all the red spots from my customer’s face.
  • Product X removes wrinkles!  Try it and look 10 years younger!
  • If you’ve got (insert disease), try Product X.  It’s helped many of my customers get rid of these symptoms once and for all!
  • Product X grows hair!  Check out these amazing photos of my client after only 5 weeks.

What else would you add?

The long and short of it is this: You cannot post before and after photos and customer testimonials related to cures/prevention, etc. without science to back it up.  So people, listen up!  I do NOT want you to get in trouble with the law.  Stop posting these things!

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Have you seen this type of post?  What have you seen?  Share in the comments below!

image credit: Katie Tegtmeyer

40 Responses to The Problem with Testimonials and Before/After Photos
  1. Bridgett
    March 2, 2013 | 3:38 pm

    Honestly, does sending out info like testimonials to hundreds of folks (like on social media) really that effective? I mean, it’s as classy as going outside wearing a sandwich board on a street corner.
    Bridgett recently posted..America’s National Pastimes: Amway-Bashing & Baseball

  2. Roxy Duvall
    March 1, 2013 | 12:16 pm

    Who is Jen Fong anyway, I or no one I know ever heard of her! Everyone has opinions, here are her’s. So what! Everyone should know you can’t claim products heal etc. But if you post a befoe and after pic of your weight loss or a friends nothing wrong with that, Because it’s real and the truth! I would never follow Fong’s advice, especially since she is a blogger siting around telling people what not to do, while we are out building a successful business. Looks like a blog of a jealous woman who has not been successful and does not want anyone else to be either!

    • Jennifer Fong
      March 1, 2013 | 12:26 pm

      Oh my goodness. Perhaps you missed the “About” section of my blog. Here’s a link: http://www.jenfongspeaks.com/about-2/

      • Karen A Hitt
        April 27, 2014 | 7:43 am

        Jennifer, wise words as usual. I have been in direct sales for 35 years and carefully follow my company’s rules for what I say about the product. Direct Sales people need to quit being DEFENSIVE about what they do and be more professional in what they do.

    • Barb
      April 27, 2014 | 10:52 pm

      Before posting such nastiness, it’s usually best to look up a person. Jennifer Fong is a very respected person in the MLM/Direct Sales industry.

  3. Rochelle Ross
    February 28, 2013 | 11:28 pm

    If you are referring to Nerium AD in your post I ask you kindly to do more research before you post information that is false. The company has many years of clinical studies by top scientists. Your judgment will hurt families and business unfairly. I am a Brand Partner and would love to show you the REAL results backed by REAL science.

    • Jennifer Fong
      March 1, 2013 | 7:18 am

      Rochelle, if you look at the date of this post, it was written in November of 2010. I’m not sure your company was even around then. This is an issue that many companies in our industry need to be aware and careful of. I am not passing any “judgment.” I am simply helping direct sellers become aware of the law and how to follow it. Good luck with your business.

  4. Joan Wyatt
    February 28, 2013 | 7:53 pm

    Our company does have the studies and they advise us how it has to be worded. We can’t say it “gets rid of wrinkles.” Legally, we have to say that it “lessens the appearance of wrinkles.” The company did spend a lot of money to hire the top research company to do clinical trials. The results were between 10% to over 60% improvement in several categories so we can mention those and show before and after pictures which we strongly encourage the customer to take with their own camera or cell phone. So we can re-post pictures from the company’s gallery or from our own customers and I always show my own before and after first, then others’ results. I agree that you have to know what you can legally do or say and check with your particular company.

  5. Anne Marie
    February 28, 2013 | 6:12 pm

    Good article Jennifer. I’m glad I don’t work in an industry that walks that slippery slope.

    But I have to say that Memory Manager truly does “erase” wrinkles! 😉

  6. Meg McGinn
    February 28, 2013 | 5:05 pm

    I have a number of friends who all joined the same company that promotes “wraps” – to tighten, firm, etc. Their before and after pictures are all over my newsfeed and frankly, I am tired of looking at them. I would like to pass on this information to them but not sure it would be taken in the right way. Any suggestions?

    • Jennifer Fong
      March 1, 2013 | 2:08 pm

      Perhaps you can share this in your newsfeed. 🙂

  7. cindy tanner
    April 13, 2012 | 9:01 pm

    Jennifer – does the same apply to cleaning products. Can we post before and after pictures of cleaning. Norwex products consist of antibacerial microfiber cloths, cleaning aids and skin care products. I’ve never posted before and after pictures of the skin care but I have for the cleaning products. We don’t claim to “cure” anything. Are we also opening ourselves up for legal acton by posting the “cleaning” pictures

    • Jennifer Fong
      March 1, 2013 | 2:10 pm

      I would imagine that it’s not the same thing, Cindy. The FTC and FDA are more interested in health and body claims. But to be sure, I would check with your company, who have legal counsel on hand to answer questions such as these!

  8. Jill Heijligers-Peloquin
    April 12, 2012 | 12:36 pm

    I sell/distribute professional beauty back bar items. People are *always* asking me “How many weeks will the results last?” I ALWAYS respond that I will never, ever promise something like that, and give them one or two particulars of why results can vary from client to client.

    My motto is “under promise; OVER deliver!”

    In our industry before/after photos of real clients are the norm – what a client looks like before eyelash extensions and the same client – sans any extra makeup, etc – an hour or afterwards when application is complete. This shows the quality and breadth of the Lash Artist’s capabilities. They usually have an entire gallery – often showing people of different ages, ethnicities, hair color, etc.

    I ask all my students to take before/after pictures of every single appointment – even when a client comes regularly for years. Of course, they would naturally want to show the best of the best as their gallery photos. I just don’t want them “guarantee-ing that they’ll last X amount of weeks or months” and not be able to give that result to everyone.

    I would LOVE it if that kind of advertisement could be outlawed by the BIG companies that promote this. Its so sad to have to explain why your work doesn’t live up to the magazine ads testimonials! Its like they set us up for failure. [sigh]

  9. Sherri Otcenasek
    April 12, 2012 | 10:43 am

    Thank you Jen for an informative article.

    Do I understand you correctly that if a customer/client posts a testimonial on my Facebook wall, I must remove it?

    Thank you.
    Sherri Otcenasek recently posted..Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

  10. Donna
    December 14, 2010 | 10:35 pm

    Great info~thank you for helping so many to understand why this is so important.

  11. The Austin Betty
    November 11, 2010 | 2:39 pm

    Appreciate the list of what not to say, but could you also share what SHOULD be said instead?
    The Austin Betty recently posted..Another McDonalds Experiment- ulp

    • Sherri Otcenasek
      April 12, 2012 | 10:44 am

      Yes, that would be helpful.
      Thanks.
      Sherri Otcenasek recently posted..Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    • Jennifer Fong
      April 13, 2012 | 9:20 am

      Betty, it’s really up to your company to provide these, based on the science they have on hand.

  12. Karen Austin
    November 11, 2010 | 12:57 am

    Thanks Jennifer for once again nailing down a subject that we all need to be aware of. Frank, to the point, and spot on! The best companies are those with compliance departments. They are the ones to consult in cases like this because each company will have it’s own set of rules. I always look forward to what you have to say next. Thanks again!

  13. Julie
    November 10, 2010 | 3:44 pm

    Great article! Thanks for sharing : )

  14. Leah Wagner Leonard
    November 10, 2010 | 3:58 am

    Thanks for your insight, Jen!

    There is indeed a fine line between promoting and marketing products and making bogus claims. I’ll never forget being invited to a presentation for another company and having the rep go on and on about how her mother’s cancer was in remission…talk about out of line!

    However, could you post an example of what an acceptable client testimonial would sound like? I am currently running a FB campaign asking friends to sample our products and post what they loved most about them on my business page’s wall.

    “I loved the eye cream” is certainly different than “The eye cream made me look 10 years younger”…right? Can you advise?

    Thanks!!

    Leah

  15. Tom Doiron
    November 9, 2010 | 10:07 pm

    Hi Jennifer,
    I read recently where the Bayer Aspirin folks got wacked with a mega million dollar fine for unsupported claims. Ignorance does not buy a pardon on these issues. The Feds can shut a company down and sieze its assets for violations. The pleasure isn’t worth the pain if that were to happen. Overselling is the sign of an amateur. Let’s be professional.

    Thanks Jennifer for the value of this blog.

    Wishing You Plenty To Live,
    Tom Doiron
    Atlanta

  16. Sue
    November 9, 2010 | 8:19 pm

    Funny you’re talking about this as I was just thinking about people making claims about products healing people just today. I very well know about not making any medical claims or any type of claim about a product, while this person told me the ingredient in question had healing properties and would affect allergies. Just makes me want to go out and buy that product right away.

  17. Annie Haarmann
    November 9, 2010 | 2:40 pm

    Yes, the FDA and FTC can come down hard on you and your company for making claims. But here is the biggest reason why you shouldn’t make claims: They are bad for sales!

    If you are hyping up a product by mentioning specific illnesses, diseases, etc., all you are doing is making your potential consumers more skeptical of your products.

    Consumers are savvy. They are constantly bombarded with marketing messages. When you say things like this, you are setting yourself up for 2 types of business failure:
    1) The consumer automatically dismisses the claim and won’t buy the product because they assume you are lying.
    or, even worse…
    2) The consumer believes you and expects a cure, treatment, etc. When the product doesn’t fulfill their fantasies, they are disappointed. Not only do they stop buying your product, but they also start telling others that your company/product is a “scam” which spreads bad buzz.

    Outlandish claims are bad for business. Period.

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 9, 2010 | 2:42 pm

      Very well said Annie! Thanks for this great perspective!

  18. Dyann Lyon
    November 9, 2010 | 2:37 pm

    Jennifer, This is great, straight forward advice on what not to do in our industry. When we love our products and want to help others we can get overly enthusiastic. It is best if we all know what the rules are and what we can, and cannot, do to live within them.
    You are a voice of clarity! Thank you!

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 9, 2010 | 2:42 pm

      Thanks Dyann!

  19. Deborah Kingcade
    November 9, 2010 | 11:55 am

    I was curious of 2 things, one, can you post a video diary on Youtube of what you are doing say daily, weekly? Two, what if your company has done a published study, that is in the medical journal on weight loss and obesity?

    Thank you 🙂 this was a great blog!

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 9, 2010 | 12:16 pm

      Deborah,
      When in doubt, check with your company. They’ll tell you whether or not what you want to say falls within the guidelines of the study.

  20. Grace
    November 9, 2010 | 10:12 am

    Great post, Jen! I was a little worried when I saw this because I did recently post before and afters, but they were about cosmetics and it doesn’t claim to cure or really medically fix anything. Am I safe?

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 9, 2010 | 10:16 am

      Grace, it depends on what you DID claim. Were you just showing cosmetics? Or were you showing a change in skin tone or something like that. If it’s the latter, I would remove it.

      • Grace
        November 9, 2010 | 11:40 am

        Awesome, I was just showcasing cosmetics! The cosmetics itself can’t change or improve skin tone, so I didn’t claim that at all. The intention was really to just show how I do makeup using the cosmetics that my direct sales company provides. Thanks for all the great info, and for helping us do business safely!

  21. Kathy Rowland
    November 9, 2010 | 9:19 am

    Thanks so much for the wise words Jennifer! Posting those informal testimonials is very common and comes from a place of just sharing excitement at the effectiveness of the products. However, we all need to do this right. Being careful and only sharing from company content will add to our integrity and believability. Thanks again…made me say “hmmmm” and”oh yeah, makes sense” this morning.
    Happy Tuesday!
    ~Kathy

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