Hey Supplement Marketers–Never Fear the FTC Again

FTC rules, regulations


“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary…walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  1 Peter 5:8

Comparing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to Satan may be unfair…

But there’s no doubt—especially if you’ve read their press releases lately—that they’re on the prowl, now more than ever.

Of course, you’re opinion of the FTC depends on your perspective.  After all, Lucifer, another name for Satan, means “enlightened one.”  But that’s probably a stretch too.

However, there’s one perspective you don’t want your company to experience.  And that’s the FTC having your firm in their crosshairs.

To help you avoid that I’ve taken the agency’s “Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide For Industry” and distilled it into a series of key questions.

Just answer them as you write or review copy.

And to make things easier for you, I’ve added page numbers in case you need more info from the actual guide.  (See link at the end of this article.)

How to ID Claims & Check Ad Meaning…


___What are the expressed and implied claims here? (Starts on page 3.)

___Are all of the expressed claims proven and supported?  Substantiated means both.

___Are any implied claims also substantiated?

___Does the ad’s net impression—text, images, product name—create an unplanned interpretation?  If so, provide proof for it.

___Do any of the ad’s elements imply a disease claim, even if there’s no specific reference to a disease?  That’s illegal—disease claims must be preapproved by the Food and Drug Administration. (Page 4)

___Have only “structure-function” statements been used to buttress your claims?   This info is limited to wording about how your supplement helps prospects retain good health and normal body functions.

___Is this ad misleading because it leaves out vital facts that should be disclosed?  Always reveal details about safety concerns and use limitations. (Page 5)

___Is that info clear and placed where it will be noticed (as close to the claim as possible)?  Make sure readers can understand its significance to your claims. (Page 6)

___Have you used vague qualifying words such as “helps” or “may?”  These may not be enough; use stronger terms if possible. (Page 7)

Next, Double-Check Claims Are Proven…

…by asking…

___Are your efficiency and safety claims backed by “competent and reliable scientific evidence?”  This proof consists of tests, analysis, research studies and so on produced by objective, relevant experts. (Page 9)

___Are the procedures used professionally accepted to yield accurate and reliable results?

___Do you have documentation that proves you have the level of support your ad claims—whether expressed or implied?

___Is the right kind and amount of evidence provided to convince experts that your claims are valid?  Generally, the FTC prefers well-controlled human clinical studies, then animal and in vitro (ex. test tube) tests. (Page 10)

___Has the quality of the research and evidence—design, implementation, results—been proven valid in the scientific community? (Page 12)

___Do these findings create meaningful benefits for consumers?

___Has all of the relevant research—for and against—your claims been evaluated?  And if there are inconsistencies, if possible, find plausible explanations. (Page 14)

___Does your product’s dosage and formulation compare to what’s used in your studies? (Page 16)

___Does research show that your product’s ingredients have no impact on nutrient effectiveness? 

___Are your formula’s nutrients used in the same manner as the ones in your studies?

___Does the study population reflect the characteristics and lifestyles of the one targeted?

Confirm These Crucial Issues…

Concluding questions include…

___Are your testimonial claims backed by scientific evidence? (Page 18)

___Are benefits typical of what consumers can generally expect to get by using your product?  If not, a clear, conspicuous disclaimer is needed.

___Are expert endorsers professionally qualified? (Page 19)

___Was your product tested in a manner known to be acceptable to other experts in the field?

___Has any material connection—personal, professional, financial– between you and your expert been revealed?

___Are claims based on traditional or historical use backed by scientific evidence?  If there’s no proof, present your claims so consumers know that they’re based on a history of traditional use. (Page 20)

___Can you document the extent and manner of this historical use?  (Page 21)

___Is the importance of this use overstated?

___Are there any major differences—in dosage, administration, or formulation—in the way you market your product and the way the nutrient is traditionally used?

___Does your advertisement include the standard FDA disclosure?  Failure to include it can lead the FTC to charge that your ad is deceptive. (Page 23)

___If any of your claims are supported by third party literature—abstracts, articles, studies—are they also backed by scientific evidence? (Page 24)

___Is this data presented honestly? (Page 25)

Got Doubts?

If you answer no to any of these questions or want more info, simply click here:


Now go to the bottom of the page, and choose the Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide For Industry” PDF.  Then go to the appropriate page.

There, you’ll find details and examples.

Still uncertain?  Then you may want to consult with a professional.  Just use the form below to set that up.

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