A Big Steaming Cup Of Hysteria

Earth in Danger

Saturday, 8:53pm
Reno, NV
“It’s the end of the world as we know, and I feel fine…” (REM)


Nice big glob of seemingly-nasty news hit the grid this week.

The FTC (brrr, even the name causes Halloween-style chills, doesn’t it) fired a shot across the bow of the good ship Capitalism with their “final guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials”.

In case you’ve been in a coma or something, here’s the Fed-sponsored link:


What immediately followed was a lot of hair-on-fire screaming and rending of clothes by both online and offline business owners who use testimonials or endorsements in their marketing.

It was kinda fun to watch, actually.

A lot of entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed over the decades, are skittish enough already about the whole “provide a product to customers in exchange for money” model of doing business.

They’re like “Are you sure we can do this?  Actually accept moolah just for giving people this thing of value we created?”

It’s understandable to be a little paranoid.  Business is part of the grown-up world, all full of consequences and responsibilities and risks…

… as well as the totally uncool embarrassment of finally getting serious about the very adult requirement of applying salesmanship to your excellent marketing adventure.

So, when any of the federal “alphabet agencies” get frisky with new rules, the entrepreneurial world goes bonkers.

Now, I’m not a lawyer.

And I’m not gonna offer anyone legal advice here.  You do what you think is best.  You’re the only one who can correctly judge your own levels of raw paranoia against reality.

However… here is (more or less) what I shared with the folks now embroiled in the Simple Writing System mentoring program (which is steaming full-throttle into it’s second week).

I thought you might want to hear a less-hysterical side to this story:


First, relax.

Every detail of this fresh ruling is still very vague.

The panic around this news is uncalled for. The Feds are not going to suddenly load up their compliance forces with jack-booted thugs and go after entrepreneurs. Their focus is and always has been the large scofflaws. They will follow the money. (Large corporations like Jenny Craig and Subway have alerted their teams of lawyers.)

Yes, the “possible ramifications” of the ruling are a Conspiracy Theorist’s wet dream. Then again, so is every other ruling the FTC has ever put out.

The diet industry — which is used as the most common example when discussing this ruling — needs periodical policing.

However, the first time a regulator tries to define the idea of “typical” results, they are in for a mind-bending exercise in irrational thinking.  What, for example, is a typical dieter?  Someone who needs to lose 15 pounds?  Fifty pounds?  A hundred?

How do you figure it out?  There are three forms of statistical averages — mean, mode and medium.  Each can be a wildly different number.

The Feds will not find an ally among mathematicians or scientists while trying to define “typical”.

Nor will they find an ally in the Constitution… where, last time I looked, there was still a guarantee of free speech.

Of course, what the Feds are responding to are the egregious abuses of endorsements and testimonials.  And God knows, there are liars and thieves and scoundrels in the business community who need to be outed and punished for polluting the joint with their scammy ways.

And it would make the Feds’ job oh-so-much easier if everyone would just stop… selling stuff… by providing context and examples that help prospects decide if they want to participate or not.

You know — all that advertising voodoo that fuels the engines of capitalism.

Meanwhile, over at the FBI, they’re hoping that criminals will stop murdering and plotting and stuff… because it’s really hard to keep order when people insist on being evil.

Also, the Oakland Raiders would like the rest of the NFL to stop picking on them.  Maybe let ’em win a freakin’ game or something already…

Look — no marketer is forced to use testimonials.

Nevertheless — and regardless of what you may have read in various other blogs — they remain powerful tools for anyone in business. (In fact, let’s hope, real hard, that your competition gets so scared that they never use testimonials again in any way, shape or form.)

And, anyway… even if you do decide to never use a testimonial, you still should know how to collect them, what they should look like, and how to communicate with happy customers who want to say nice things about you.

It’s still the best kind of feedback you can get about your business.

It’s… oh, what’s that phrase… oh yeah: Word of mouth.  A thumb’s up from a satisfied customer.

Again, I’m not a lawyer.  Haven’t talked with one about the ramifications of this ruling (which is not, by the way, an actual “law”, but a recommendation).

Here’s some common sense, anyway: Don’t compensate people for giving you a testimonial, and say so in your ad.  (And if your stuff is so crappy that you have to pay people to say something nice about it… then create better stuff.)

If you get compensation for touting a product on your blog (which appears to be the crux of the ruling, despite the “deeper” readings by the more paranoid among us), come clean on that.  No biggie.

If you’re unsure about anything, pay attention over the next couple of months.

This ruling goes “official” December 1… and between now and then, there will be a lot of discussion about it.  (Is Jared of Subway out of a job?  And, since most diets fail most of the time… because people don’t follow them… will every diet book ever published in history have to be amended to reflect that fact that anyone who actually lost weight is a freak of nature?)

(Will the Home Shopping Network be forced to stop touting celebrity make-over programs?)

(Will any advertiser, ever, be allowed to show people in their ads… for fear that any implication of “typical” is not breached?)

Folks, this kind of hysteria shows up every few years in advertising.

Twenty years ago, for example, the Feds ordered magazines to put a big “Advertisement” slug on top of every long-copy ad run in the publication.

You know… so no one would get confused.  We don’t want anybody’s head exploding because they accidentally read an ad in Cosmo, thinking it was a real article.

Marketers flipped out… until they realized that putting the slug on top of their ads didn’t affect results (and sometimes actually INCREASED sales).  (Oh, the irony.)

The diet industry — which, by the way, I have refused to get involved with as a freelancer for over a decade now — has been subject to endless “you can’t do that” rulings on showing people’s before-and-after tales…

… and in the end, the smart marketers comply, and do and say everything the rulings demand…

… and life (and profit) goes on.

I’m not saying this ruling is something to ignore completely.

We’ll have to see how it plays out in reality… meaning, how the Feds actually decide to follow up, and how any actual enforcement (which clearly appears to violate the Constitutional protections of free speech) manifests itself.

It’s worth a long discussion.

I’m all for hampering the scam artists out there.  (Just to be clear:  If you’re an unethical marketer, I hope you rot in Hell.  After getting your head handed to you here on Earth.)

However, trying to re-invent capitalism by kicking it in the balls is not the way to go about it.

Again… this vague, extremely ambiguous ruling (not a law) won’t go into effect until December 1st, and there will be much input from established businesses between now and then.

The lawyers are loving it.  Let the paranoia ooze and scorch!

This is not, however, the end of capitalism as we know it. Nor are testimonials going away. (Again, pray that your competition stops using them, though.)

Let’s see what other shoes drop over the next few weeks, shall we?

Stay frosty,


P.S. And yes, we get affiliate commissions from any sale resulting from someone clicking on any of the banners on this blog.

It’s called marketing, folks.

UPDATE: The esteemed New York Times weighs in on this issue:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/opinion/13tue2.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

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  • John,

    I especially like your P.S. 🙂

    Great wisdom shared here John…thanks for your detailed explanation from a “seasoned” marketer’s point of view (someone who’s been there since the last update of this ruling.


  • Jennifer says:

    Thank you for providing a calm voice in the midst of a storm. I appreciate your logic, practicality, and common sense approach.
    Fear, hysteria, and chaos serve no practical purpose. Especially when there are simple measures we can take to ensure compliance. Thanks!

  • […] is a great blog post about this topic by John Carlton. A Big Steaming Cup of Hysteria I especially like this post because he is calm and practical about the whole thing. It seemed to […]

  • Jay Marsden says:

    I agree with you John that there is no need to panic about this latest guideline. When you think about it the FTC have opened up a real can of worms here because they have been so vague. Forget us small fries here in the info marketing business for a minute, think about all the fortune 500 companies that use testimonials in there copy and TV ads. I don’t think they will be too quick to take down marketing campaigns that have cost millions of dollars to produce. The FTC will have a really long and expensive fight on there hands if some of the big boys decide to go toe to toe against this ruling.

    I am based in the UK and the guidelines are really clear about what you can and can’t say. The DTI which is the UK equivalent to the FTC also tell you when your doing it wrong, without throwing the book at you. I have a client you received a very nice letter asking them to add a disclaimer to there page saying that results can differ from person to person. There was a request to seek legal advice over writing the disclaimer, but I thought this is the way is should be done, specially when it’s a small business or somebody working from home. The UK’s way is all based on the amount of customer complaints you get, which I think is a much fairer way of separating the scammers for the legitimate business owners.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Jay.
      Yeah, stateside regulators can’t seem to be clear to save their lives. It’s like they take classes in being wishy-washy. (Doesn’t help that no one in management there seems to understand business, either.)
      I think they’ve got an unwinnable position here… but we’ll see…

  • Kyle Tully says:

    Finally some level headed discussion! There’s a long way to go before anything is law, let’s all relax a little.

  • Cheryl says:

    I missed it, but then I’m in Britain where we’ve always had a fairer Advertising Standards Agency as well as the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry).

    I’m kind of with Jay on this, except that I feel any step forward is a good thing, no matter how tiny, tentative or wishy washy.

    To be honest, besides (or because of) the standards we live under in the UK, we’ve learned the hard way to take any and all US based advertising with tongue in cheek – to actually expect it to be a bunch of old hooey run up by a snake oil salesman. A show, but quite possibly one without any real basis.

    I believe this is a wonderful step forward for honest advertisers with good products, because their reputation has been soiled for too long by association with the smoke-and-mirrors guys. Its also about time your huge European potential market stopped throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and if your FTC is strengthening its principles even a tiny bit, then you all might get a better reception, yes?

    And I’m all out of analogies… 🙂

  • John, thanks for injecting a little much-needed sanity into this issue. I feel smarter and better already. Damn right I’ll keep using testimonials.

  • Todd Ariss says:

    Great post John.

    My biggest concern is not related to my own copy but rather that of my affiliates. How in gods name am I supposed to monitor what my affiliates are writing on their blogs? I have a business to run here! I have no time to play biog brother on behalf of the FTC.

    Your post was perfect timing for me … I’m starting to calm down a bit now and have decided maybe I don’t need to move off shore so some random affiliate doesn’t sink me 😉


    • Mark Wilson says:

      Todd, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one to pick up on this particular piece of madness.

      That because you ‘established an endorser – sponsor relationship’ (read this as product owner – affiliate relationship) you have automatically ‘assumed the risk that an endorser (i.e. your affiliate) may fail to disclose a material connection or misrepresent a product, and the potential liability that accompanies that risk.’

      That’s just nuts! How are you expected to police what your affiliates say about your product?

      • John Carlton says:

        This is one of the more tricky parts of this ruling. As some have noted in this thread already, it’s asking for something that cannot be delivered. No one who understands affiliate marketing would have made such a rule… the ONLY reason to make it, would be to shut down affiliate marketing as it exists now.

        I do not understand what problem they thought there were addressing with this. It’s over-the-top, and will have far-reaching consequences, if it somehow becomes standard-operating-procedure for regulators. It will kill all licensing and franchising… and all network marketing, as well.

        We’re probably going to juice up the legal requirements (as in contracts) for being our affiliate. However, more shake-out has to happen here.

        This ruling was ill-thought-out. They’re going to have to address the unintended consequences.

        • Ronak Shah says:

          I would invite all of you to come over and setup shop in India. Believe me, you will have the most intelligent kids helping you with your business at unbelievable prices.

          The EU will also have some rulings on this one so India will be a great option anyway.

          The regulations aren’t that like the FTC in the US and there is a lot of flexibility here. You will get the best technology and wiz kids here. Hop in!

  • Simon Ashari says:

    Hi John.

    A question for you (or anyone else who may know the answer).

    Will this affect marketers in other countries (If they are selling to people in the USA, or their websites are hosted on US servers, etc).

    loving the blog as always.


    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Simon.

      There are many unanswered questions here… and that’s why we need to discuss this and follow further developments before panicking.

      It seems to be an assault on small business, and I just have a hard time believing that was their intention.

      Though, in all of the huffing and puffing about health care reform, small biz has been ignored. Entrepreneurs get zero respect in this country… just lots of lip service by politicians around election time.

      The shake-out of this ruling may cause small biz to wake up and start defending itself more. That would be a very cool unintended consequence.

  • Michael says:

    Well said, as always, John. I will be quoting my favorite blurb from your article, “trying to re-invent capitalism by kicking it in the balls is not the way to go about it” giving you full credit, of course !
    It seems there is an awful lot of that going on in this country whether it is health care reform, TSA abusing their authority, (soon to be) mandatory swine flu vaccinations, or in this case FTC regulations to help “protect” the ignorant, naive consumer from being able to decipher hype from independent and objective truth.
    Blair Singer wrote about the demise of America’s ability to determine value vs. cost/price in his book, “Little Voice Mastery”. I think once we figure out how to solve that problem, it will end up kicking the balls of the scam artists without telling us how we should market our products.

  • Excellent blog John that really does help to put the FTC ruling into perspective.

    I came back from holiday last week and I couldn’t believe all the stuff that was being said. Mind you it took long enough to read the 81 pages from the FTC before I got to the bloggers.

    I agree with you totally about the scammers, liars and cheats – I hope they do get what’s due to them.

    There is a HUGE role for personal responsibility. Take control, make your own mind up, take action and live with the consequences.

    I’m also based in the UK where the reaction to over the top direct response copy is much more muted and treated with suspicion. Mind you, we Brits can be so reserved it is untrue.

    But we suffer from the nanny state interfering in just about everything and creating a host of unexpected and undesired consequences.

    If effective the FTC guidance will reduce great products down to the level of the general mediocrity because the marketing will be so timid that it is not possible to identify the true quality stuff.

    Is that really what “the government” wants? I don’t think so.

  • Thanks, John, for your reasoned reaction to this. If the FTC actually does apply these guidelines and does it intelligently, it could be very helpful to ethical marketers.

    Not only that, but in the health arena, requiring advertisements to reveal who sponsored studies whose results often just happen to support the interests of the sponsor (see end of the 4th paragraph in the FTC text) would be fantastic, especially if they have the courage to go after the big guys.

  • Jacinta Dean says:

    Hi John,
    I have been on your mailing list for a while. Thank you for sharing your honest opinion about what is happening. I live in Australia and our laws often parallel with US. It can all be A bit confusing at times, but I think it fair that we just try and do the right thing with honesty and integrity and only recommend or endorse so to speak a product that we have honestly use and like.
    Thank You 🙂
    Jacinta 😀

  • Shmaya David says:

    “If you are the kind of guy that can keep your head cool while everybody else is running around screaming in Hysteria, it is obviouse that … you haven’t a clue!” 🙂
    Just kidding man. I totally agree with your post. I used to work for the most regulated industry on earth – Pharmaceuticals, and even there, most of the regulations makes perfect sense, and are not so difficult to follow. Businessmen requires stability more than they need a free hand. The market will adapt to any new regulation. If the people will still wish to buy the porducts, there will be a way to market and sell it.

  • Brad West says:

    Great post John,

    We have been watching the hysteria closely and yes it is a bit crazy. What is written is so vague, and to address some specific incidences such as Frank Kern and Perry Belcher they are just two that write or wrong should have been innocent before proven guilty. Heck Frank proved that someone else was using his name and material and still had to pay for it.

    Anyway my biggest concern it the natural health industry. there are some real great things out there, among the hype and rubbish that actually work instead of Big Pharmas drugs. I can see the natural health industry taking the brunt of this in the beginning.

    As far as the law this has nothing to do with law they write their own laws and enforce them with no repercussions. That’s the way it has been and will continue to be in till there enough Big people that get hurt.
    But who the hell am I to talk I’m still trying to make my first dollar online.
    Thanks for the post
    Brad West

  • Al says:

    On balance I expect this will be beneficial in that it may well stop some of the wilder excesses of the scam artists. I started to warn my readers about fake reviews years ago and since then it has turned into an industry…

    Only thing that concerns me is how this turns out for affiliate marketing – we can’t really put a disclaimer beside every affiliate link…

    All The Best!


  • Adil says:

    Thank you for the Heads up, John.

    Glad I am getting more great info from you.
    As always your posts made me laugh and taught me something at the same time.

    Thank you again,


  • Dominic Valentine says:

    Of course – there is always the option of doing it anyways; you can always apologize later.

    By the time this ‘recommendation’ gets any further some smarty-pants will have found a ‘loophole’ or a way around it.

    If you can’t control it then don’t sweat it.

    Good blog and intelligent comments as expected – Thanks John

  • Great article. Personally I don’t see what the big deal is for marketers. I think the people that should be worried are the folks that come to mind are like what happened in the 90’s. There was a guy touting a foreclosure infomercial and was using rented boats and planes saying he got them from auctions, made millions in foreclosures and used his friends and family to be fictitious endorsers of the product. The thing is all he was selling can be found in other real estate books and courses.

    Now on the other hand I have met a few people that seemed dumber than dirt too. The old saying let the buyer beware or to put it simpler let the buyer have some common sense! Most of these customers are in some form being compensated…whether it is in the form of an all expense paid trip out to give the testimonial or whether it is straight out payment or free product. But I digress. Great article, thanks John.

    • Comedian-Turned-Copywriter says:

      LOL you’re talking about William McCorkle.

      The guy got hit with like 20 years.

      I believe that was too much. Even the guy behind Enzyte got 20+ years.

      It’s nice to see that not even a child molester gets this time.

  • Good to see another voice of reason here on this issue.

    I posted a similar rather lengthy remark on a particularly well known marketers blog last night refuting the effect this will have on the vast majority of online marketers, unfortunately for taking an opposing point of view, the comment never made it to ‘publication’.

    It’s good to see you John likewise putting out your valuable opinion and seeing the situation likewise, for exactly what it is.

    Keep up the good work.

    Kindest regards.

    Mark Andrews

  • Ray Conmey says:

    I laughed so hard at your comments, I nearly spit up all over myself.

    The last time I looked we outnumber them. Besides, doesn’t the government “work for us”? 😉

  • Hey John,

    Obviously they are going after the fake diet blogs. Remember I showed you how they read the IP addresses and make the successful person appear to live in your home town.
    Back in my weight loss days, we noted the value of a local testimonial. It didn’t even matter how much weight the person lost – if they were local they would boost sales.
    But it never occurred to us to invent testimonials or lie about peoples’ success.
    We also discovered it was all about pictures. This was around the time photoshop was not yet the rage. We would have had collective heart attacks if we saw manipulated photographs that seem have taken over the diet injury.
    I remember the last huge FTC warning – I was still in the weight loss biz.
    Back then the Feds wanted to outlaw two expressions: 1. “lose weight while you sleep” 2. “permanent weight loss’
    There was a lot of teeth grinding over those two. Typically, the FTC will go after one big player with deep pockets and impose a fine so steep as to make everyone sit up and gasp.
    Yet, it’s years later and I still see those expressions.
    It’s extremely unlikely that a small-fry has anything to worry about.
    Of course, compliance is the smart way to do business.
    Even if they aren’t out to get you.
    (They are).



    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Harlan.

      Yeah, I’m thinking that “Obey this rule” diet thing has got to be at the head of the queue needing some serious slap-down action by the Feds.

      Be interesting to see how it all plays out…

  • ken c says:

    Well said, John. And that confirms what I’ve heard from other Brits, Cheryl – it’s good to be skeptical of what you see, agree with you there.

    Big picture, although I’ve gotten hundreds of specific testimonials on my sites that I’m damn proud of, earning them over 10 years the hard way (by genuinely delivering quality), I’m taking most of them down between now and December 1st – count me among the conservative folks out there.

    Because our current government has a huge deficit and they’re looking for ways to generate income. It would not surprise me to see a huge blanket-salvo of actions (and multiple 11k fines) levied against any website with anything remotely resembling a specific performance-based claim testimonial.

    So until this gets clarity from the powers that be, and supporting enforcement actions published, which are helpful to read, the pdfs, since it tells you exactly what’s allowed and what’s not, and why (as in the continuity examples recently), I am definitely in the “better safe than sorry” camp and am (for now at least) going to take down virtually all testimonials, until I see the scope and case law precedents to see what’s meant, specifically, by this.

    Also I’m suspending my affiliate programs and will not have any affiliates promoting for me post December 1st except for a few folks I know personally.

    I’m in the wear silver shiny hats and duck into the shelter in the backyard camp, because when a newly-elected government with a huge budget deficit suddenly enacts guidelines/law that results in widespread potential fines that would impact virtually all marketers, I get wary, it looks like a way to make money for the government.

    I too am a big fan of transparency and disclosure, and hopefully this is just targeted at those who genuinely deserve scrutiny. But since a wider net is likely to be cast, I want to be safe, even though all my stuff is clean and well earned.

    My testimonials are coming down, and limited/no affiliate program, til I see which way the wind blows, for at least 6 months to a year. Thank goodness I don’t depend on affiliates for my business, and I’ve got a reputation and product quality that, while helped by testimonials, isn’t dependent on them.


    • John Carlton says:

      I feel your pain, Ken. And I respect your judgment.
      However, I’m not buying into the paranoia just yet.
      The affiliate stuff is another matter, though. We’re pondering hard on all of this…

    • I’ve been on Usenet and E-mail lists for years, and followed one simple rule. If I endorse/recommend something, I fully disclose my relationship. For example, I know Michael Z. Williamson (Author of Contact with Chaos, Better to ask forgiveness, etc), and am the adopte grandafther of his daughter (Morrigan, almost 12), and have for years. I would say, “I enjoyed ‘book,’ and think you should read it. Note: mention relationship as above, in some form.”
      Maybe it’s “excessive,” but I believe in honesty. Maybe if we all do similar things, there won’t be a problem. For example, just say. “This site has no control over claims, or endorsements used by advertisers. If you feel one has been dishonest, please tell us. Thank you.”
      I’ve had a problem with much of the “marketing” system espoused by some. Great amounts of hype, much identical or near identical copy, etc. Now, I’m hearing that Google is delisting, or dropping those sites way down the listings. To me, it’s past time for that to happen. Thanks for being one of the few talking about real marketing, and respect for our customers. I believe we will prosper long after the others disappear, if we all be “excessively” honest. JMO.

  • Clifford says:

    Does this affect bloggers who are not from the United States but has blog for the US audience?

    I do occasionally tell my subscribers that I earn commissions when they buy through my link, so I think I come clean with that but I’m still skeptical with the way this turns out.

  • It’s sad that this industry can’t self-police itself, but
    the truth is that it can’t.

    The fact is that some people will do anything for
    money – anything, and have no qualms about
    climbing the ladder of success on the bodies of
    their victims

    It’s been getting worse & worse and has finally
    reached the point where you can’t even open
    most emails any more without putting on a pair of
    waders first.

    Faked ‘proof’, BS testimonials, garbage products,
    software that doesn’t work, guarantees that
    aren’t honored and courses/how-to’s that have no
    basis in reality and do nothing but ensure the
    failure of the person who follows them, is the
    norm lately, and everyone suffers because of it.

    It’s a plague on our industry.

    Customers are out their money – at best, out of
    business and broke in the worst case scenarios,
    and it all casts a pall on legitimate, honest
    marketers and this industry as a whole.

    It’s hard to be a successfull, honest, used car
    salesman in a world that believes that all used car
    salesman are slime…..

    So if you see me turn a raised eyebrow & a
    questioning look at anyone who cries bloody
    murder and whines about ‘government
    intervention’ – this is why.

    As far as I’m concerened, the new rulings don’t go
    far enough, and are largely unenforceable.

    It’s a sad fact, but $$$ rule in FTC enforement too,
    and the little cases usually aren’t ‘worth it’ for them
    to spend the big bucks to chase down and

    And for all of those who think (and I’ve seen a lot
    of these comments) that the FTC rulings don’t
    affect them because they do business from
    outside the US; if you use a US registrar to
    register your domain, such as GoDaddy – think
    again. They’ll just shut you down & lock up your
    domain name.

    That’s it (for now). I’ll climb off my soapbox and
    everyone can go about their business as usual and
    pretend that all is well with the Internet Marketing

    Stuart Halpryn

    • Comedian-Turned-Copywriter says:

      stu…you’re fooling yourself.

      surprise, I’m gonna whine about this…

      This is about Government intervention.

      This about the “land of the free” not being so free anymore.

      There is nothing beneficial nor benevolent about “government”

      It’s not just about going after the crooks, it’s about a bunch of insecure nerds turned feds getting payback through their false power.

      who knows, maybe the federal men may hang a little lower and federal women may actually look like a woman after this.

      I met em. Not the happiest, nicest people. Very corrupt. Ugly. Hidden agenda prone.

      come on stu… you didn’t believe the Government people were honest, now did you?

      • It’s hard to take seriously the comments of
        the only one (so far) who feels the need to
        post anonomously with no links back to

        If you have opinions, then have the huevos
        to stand behind them.

        However, I’ll attempt to address your
        response as though you actually exist.

        You are correct – the US government is far
        from perfect. So?

        You mean that there’s a cost to being
        the ‘land of the free’ – like laws?

        You mean that you should be able to say
        what you want, when you want regardless of
        whether or not it’s a lie?

        If yes – then I truly wonder about the quality
        and veracity of your copywriting – are YOU
        part of the problem?

        You certainly aren’t part of the solution; of
        any solution, you are, as you so aptly pointed
        out, ‘whining’.

        Maybe you’re right – maybe we should let
        things go on as they have been. Maybe we
        should stick our heads in the sand – those of
        us who don’t like what this industry has
        become, or maybe pray to some marketing
        god for relief, while the sharks feed on the
        newbies, the naive, and those who should
        know better but get sucked in anyway.

        Frankly, I am tired of seeing the marketing
        demise of so many.
        I’m tired of hearing from so many how much,
        how many thousands upon thousands of
        dollars they’ve wasted on gooroo products
        that promised them the world.

        And if I have to sell benefits instead of claims,
        if I have to refrain from taking any bogus
        testimonials, if I have to write clean copy
        because the law says so – I won’t notice any
        difference because that’s always been the
        way that I do business…..

        But what do you care? After all, you’re just a
        ghost, someone who’s afraid to stand behind
        his/her covictions by letting everyone know who you are.

        I might as well be talking to the wind.

        Stuart Halpryn

        • Comedian-Turned-Copywriter says:

          Oh Stu….

          You’re right, I don’t exist. A mysterious entity is using my keyboard.

          I attack the government… and all you do is attack me.

          It’s warfare….

          My real name is Romeo Blais. I studied copywriting since I was 15 years old – under Lawrence Tabak – one of Gary’s original students.

          Are you happy now, stu? How’s that for afraid? Go insult or defame someone else, pal.

          anonymous? Ghost? gimme a break. I have nothing to hide from the corrupt US government or you.

          Stop putting words in my mouth, also. I never said I believe in the frauds out there.

          not part of the solution? * Romeo extends middle finger at stu *

          I never ripped off anybody and also developed a product that works. Can you do the same Stu.

          If you don’t like what going on- ignore it. Enforcing control over the nation is not how to do it.

          I’m sure you believe in the IRS too, right?

          You know- the old…”you owe me, I owe you” dogma the government brainwashed people with to extort money for their bogus causes.

          Laws? HA! Laws were created by greedy, envious, impotent, ugly Government people to expliot the rights of people. End of story.

  • ken c says:

    p.s. the reason I feel the way I do, about being very very careful, is because I’m a veteran stock trader (and for fun I play blackjack at the Bellagio – if you’re ever there, see Gene the dealer, from NJ, he’s great), and am extremely adept at managing risk.

    To me, keeping specific testimonials up and/or running an affiliate program in the face of these new guidelines, without case law or examples to learn from, or clarity, going into the Dec 1st action, would be like:

    + doubling down on a 17 against a dealer’s 10 card
    + betting it all on “#26” at a roulette table
    + trading a stock without seeing it’s chart

    in other words, a very bad idea, at least for how I see things. As a smart business owner, risk management is #1, ahead of sales, though both are critical. Doing anything that might in the slightest way not meet the newly (and unclear for now) defined guidelines just doesn’t make good business sense. Testimonials and affiliates are coming down for me, til I see clarity on what the regulatory agencies specifically have in mind, as I’m keen on being fully in compliance with everything, to continue to stay in compliance with the powers that be.

    Also, competitors in your niche may file regulatory actions for anything bordering noncompliance as a way to get you fined.

    The markets hate uncertainty (stocks), and so do I – so until there’s clarity and specific “do’s and don’ts” published, with additional examples and case law/reg. actions to learn from, I’ll stay on the prudent side of things and be conservative. Anything else, is a bad business bet.


    • Earnst says:

      O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
      Deny thy father and refuse thy name!
      Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
      And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

      A cat fight….I luv it.

      • Comedian-Turned-Copywriter says:

        Ernest? Stu? Is that you? Not hiding under a ghost name, are you?

        • John Carlton says:

          Hi Comedian.

          In case you’re unaware of my attitude about flaming, I’ll recap briefly:

          I’ve never — never — in the 5 years of this blog had to remove a non-spam comment. I’m hoping this will continue to be the case.

          These threads have been self-policed by the users. It’s worked, with only a handful of name-calling episodes, which eventually settled themselves.

          I’m fine with your “laws are made to exploit” attitude. (At this stage of my life, I’m more inclined to note how fragile civilization is, and how history shows that governance has always been a sloppy, imperfect game… and not take the easy cheap shots from the balcony anymore. Your attitude is a cousin to idealism, and I was an idealist myself for far too long before becoming a realist. I’ve written about this a lot, in this blog and elsewhere. Still, I’m not gonna argue with you on any of these points — I don’t believe anyone’s mind, in the history of mankind, has ever been changed by arguing.)

          So, anyway, make your point, and leave it at that. No name-calling, and no flaming, all right? (I’m sensing you’re headed in that direction by calling out certain other posters.)

          You are pretty much alone in staying anonymous here, too. You’ll see that nearly everyone uses their name when posting. That’s because these threads are (at the moment) safe places to post — we’re not “solving” the world’s problems here, we’re discussing them.

          I’d love to have you stick around.

          But you gotta be an adult.

  • Chris says:


    What a refreshing perspective on this. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m supposed to know what results my “average” customer gets unless they tell me, which 99% of them won’t, even if a survey is done.


  • Thanks for the calming, yet always humerous words John. Seems like every week or so there are new rulings on marketing and we need to be able to sift through the stuff we should care about and the stuff that we should “let ride” — for now. It will be interesting to see how this one pans out.
    To your success!
    Productive & Organized – We’ll help you find your way! ™

  • Comedian-Turned-Copywriter says:

    Introducing the Comedian-Turned-Copywriter who’s not laughing anymore….

    Wake up people. The FEDS are your enemy. They want to destroy capitalism and bring on communism.

    It’s slowly happening everyday. They want everyone to go to college, so that everyone has to go to a job and pay their debt to society – Taxes.

    America is a scam. Christopher Columbus was a terrorist. He brought death to the Indians. Now it’s the FEDS turn to bring it to Capitalism

    Me, I could care less what the ABC numbshits have to say – I’ll do it anyway.

    They’re not gonna stop me.

    They want to put an end to the herbal nutritional supplement market too.

    • John Carlton says:

      Okay, Romeo, just saw your other post where you come clean. (I’ll have to check with my buddies, though — I don’t remember ever meeting you, or hearing about you from Halbert.)

      Thanks for outing yourself.

      And you were being heckled a bit there by other posters, so I’m gonna back you up on responding with a little venom.

      But I’m also going to restate that no flaming will be allowed here. Make your case, and move on. That goes for everybody.

      • Romeo Blais says:

        Well, John, you might just meet me in person.

        Been thinking about fleeing Maines harst winter next year.

        This means- I’m headed to Las Vegas – Fear and Loathing style.

        I might just stop in for a chat, cup of coffee or arm wrestling match.

  • Miles says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the great post. I keep getting emails etc. about this and it seems people are really freaking out over nothing. The first thing I did was go straight to the FTC website and read it myself. Frankly, I didn’t see anything that will make me panic, but I sure hope everyone else does 🙂 more money for me!


  • Peter says:

    The celebrity aspect of this ruling is strange … does this mean every time a band plays on Letterman using a guitar given to them by Fender Corporation, they have a duty to announce the guitar was a gift? “Thanks everybody, by the way, this Fender Telecaster was a gift from Fender, Jake got his drum kit through a deal with Pearl, and Tommy’s smoking a Marlboro Light because he was paid to.” (audience stares.)

  • Hal Hoadley says:


    I’ve read several different takes on what our socialistic government agency known to many as the FTC is trying to impose on marketers. So far, you make more sense out of this than most. I’m just now transfering my knowledge of direct mail marketing into the internet world. I’m going to be an entreprenuer in the internet marketing arena and will just refuse to be bogged down by an agency of the U.S. Government with rules and regs that may deter my success.
    In my danke, cramped cubicle days I had an old an pinned up on my wall that read: Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down”. Let’s wait to see what shakes out. I am not slowing down, it’s full speed ahead for me.
    Great post and keep up the great work that you do. You are my inspiration.

  • William Cato says:

    Hey John,
    Love the post. I read Micheal Fortains posting on this as well, this weekend. It sounds like another why Obama, is trying to kill America and our dreams. Sorry dems.
    I am not really concern about this ruling as much as some, except for the testimonial part.
    As a service business owner, I want to use customer testimonials on my blog and ad’s. I was thinking about giving customers 10% off of there repair and remodel bill, as an incentive, if they leave a call in testimonial that I would record. use and transcribe.
    I guess, I won’t beable to use the incentive by the way this ruling reads. 🙁
    However, it is so grey, it reminds me of Ebay’s rules. I know a marketer that makes a killing in the grey area’s of ebay’s tos.

  • Jon says:

    Thanks for this enlightened post John.

    If you are in the UK or Europe, you should read this http://www.out-law.com/page-5604

    The thing is though IF you are telling the truth – I think I’m probably the only hypnotist and influence trainer in the world who says it doesn’t work with everyone – and your testimonials and such are not rigged then why worry?

    To be honest you will get into a lot more subconscious minds – and that is where you need to be – being straight as a die and as honest as the day is long, and you’ll get rid of most of your returns and moaning too boot. Plus as John hopefully will tell you its a damn sight easier to tell the truth than it is to tell a ‘story’.

  • Steve says:

    IF we have to remove our testimonials, doesn’t that instantly give a HUGE advantage to everyone with a site that resides outside the USA?

    Excellent post John. Thank you. 🙂

    • Steve,
      We won’t have to remove testimonials, but a
      marority will have to change how they use and
      collect testimonials.

      The hardest to control consequence that I see,
      is controlling affiliates.
      I don’t know if a strictly worded TOS will be
      enough, legally. I’ll leave that point to the legal
      eagles to advise us on.

      Bottom line – don’t lie, be able to prove
      everything that you say; don’t make claims, of
      any kind, save copies of emailed testimonials,
      including headers, and give full disclosure.

      It’s EASY to say;
      ‘I was given an evaluation copy’, ‘I bought a
      copy at full price’, ‘I was part of a test group’,
      etc., when giving a testimonial…

      Stuart Halpryn

  • @MirkoGosch says:

    Hey John,
    hilariously true article, being a jurist I can tell that people just love freaking out, whenever some goonies from our big brother get bored and fumble with some new rulings on whatever they don´t understand about. Enjoyed every sentence of this post! Thank you. Mirko

  • Ken says:

    Excellent post, John. What is telling about the whole “rule change” is that the FTC still carries the burden of proof, and given the current state of the economy (and of government), I don’t think there will be too many prosecutions.
    It is fair to consumers that endorsers should say if they are being compensated for promoting a product, rather than leaving things up to the consumer.

  • Susie Nelson says:

    Leave it to John to give everyone a “reality slap!”

    I have to admit – I am really tired of seeing all those ads pop up when I open our local newspaper site: “Woodbury Mom lost 3000 pounds with this new miracle pill”….or something like that. (Heads up marketers – they are buying remnants – and if you don’t know what that is – ask about it next time you choose to run an ad – killer rates!!!)

    Of courses, each time I see the ad – I ask myself “What have I clicked on that makes all these weight loss ads appear?” OK – need to lose a few – so does Oprah – again.

    So bring it on FTC – FCC – FFA – FAA – SEC – FBI – CIA – and EIEIO.

    And I will stay frosty – we just had our first “accumulating snow storm” in Minnesota – in October??

    PS: If you’d like to write a testimonial for my ebook: check it out at http://www.debtreallyreallysucks.com
    PPS: Sorry – no compensation.

  • Tom Harvey says:


    Great post summarising the changes with some insightful views and arguments around the changes. It certainly will be interesting to see what effect this has on the industry as the changes come into force.


  • Thanks for putting this out there John. I’m completely fine with this ruling and reading your post makes my thinking even more clear on the matter.

    In the end it should help to weed out some people.

    Thanks John!


  • Captain Rob says:

    Ahoy John,

    I just “stumbled” upon your Web site. Great stuff, you certainly put a smile on my face this morning. I kinda wish I had discovered YOU a while back, as I just finished my first real book and the first printing should be arriving today or tomorrow (my birthday by the way).

    Anyway, thanks again for putting ABC rulings and suggestions in perspective for us silly entrepreneurs.

    Captain Rob

    P.S. By the way, if I had quit everytime I heard, “It’s too hard. You’ll never figure it out.” Well,,,,,, you know what I mean! 🙂

  • Kyle says:

    I’m not asking for legal advice in this post, but I’d like an opinion.

    Let’s suppose someone is NOT in the diet market or the make-money-online market. Let’s suppose someone sells lawnmowers and their testimonials read:

    “Hey, this lawnmower is fantastic! My neighbor has been jealously eyeing my well kept front yard for over a week now since I’ve been using your Grass Monster 5000.” – Bob Jones, Tillamook

    These types of testimonials that don’t bring forth a specific not-at-all-measurable claim are still legal, correct?

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Kyle. Go read the ruling, and all the other attendant stuff put out on the FTC site. They try to show examples, and I’ll bet you’ll get a good semi-answer there.
      Increasingly, as the FTC realizes the can of worms they’ve opened (causing unintended problems by trying to tweak the rules on another problem), they’re giving more and more exact ideas of what can and what can’t be done. They’ll never be able to address every single concern, though… but in general, the Truth remains a decent defense. They just want the fact that Bob Jones was given that lawnmower for free, in exchange for his rave review, given prominent notice. If he bought it himself, and sent in a nice note without being compensated, it will be a good idea to make that point, as well.
      This is about the Feds idea of “transparency”… so no one thinks a blogger or advertiser with “authority” (their word) tricks prospects into thinking that an endorsement was given freely, when in fact it was paid for.
      Make sense? No?
      This is why it’s being talked about so much… all the way up to the NY Times and beyond.
      I’ll be posting more about this… and about easy ways to get around the anxiety when you use endorsements. It’s not brain surgery… if you’re ethical.

  • John, thanks for giving me the run down on this in a nononsense way. I’d heard about the crackdown but not what it basically meant so thanks for making sense.

    If your a scammer sucked in if you’re not you should be sweet basically. Just how it should be

  • […] to the new guidelines in some quarters is mostly much ado about nothing. For the most part, as blogger John Carlton noted, any FTC enforcement actions will focus on the big fish — the companies behind advertisers […]

  • Ronak Shah says:

    Hi John,

    Is this the end of Affiliate Marketing?

    Do you think clickbank, cj, azoogle, cpa networks are going to shut down businesses because of the affiliate policing rule?

    The thing of testimonials isn’t as big a thing as it is for the affiliate marketing industry. Can’t anyone contest the rules laid out by the FTC in court? Especially when it hurts so many businesses.

    Believe me John, I feel like slapping the FTC commissioner for their affiliate marketing clause.

    I’m a big fan of your’s John. Love you, tc. 🙂


  • Earnst says:

    Swine flu…the tax man…2012…the FTC.
    What’s next?

    It’s a tough world out there. If you can’t stand it maybe you should get a job in a cubical with Ralph and the other whining ninnies. They are afraid of their own shadows and pee themselves when the boss uses a sonorous tone of voice.

    I say F the FTC.

    If you don’t lie in your ads and your testimonials are true, no problem. Your plumber has enough legal experience to get you an acquittal.

    So trudge on, fear not, the world hasn’t ended…yet. Write those ads. Use those happy customers to sell your goods. F the FTC.

    Buy the Simple Writing System…you need it.
    Do what it teaches and you will be fine…really.

    Note: This is NOT a paid testimonial.

  • Gregg Zban says:

    Hey rebel. Dig your stuff! Can you do this…guitar player? My latest “over the hill” offering set to NASCAR film. check it out.

    I’m a big fan. You and Terry Pluto from the Akron Beacon Journal are the best writers in the universe. (except my Dad…sports writer for 40 years… I’m sure you understand)



  • Ray says:

    “If you don’t lie in your ads and your testimonials are true, no problem.”

    Just want to point out this is horribly wrong. Under new FTC guidelines, your testimonials can be true but still be “misleading.”

    “Your plumber has enough legal experience to get you an acquittal.”

    But your lawyer might not.

    • John Carlton says:

      Who said this, Ray? I didn’t.

      My advice is to not panic, and see how this continues to shake out. Nothing the FTC says can be ignored. But neither should it be misconstrued, or used to incite hysteria.

      • Earnst says:

        Hi John,
        It was me that said it.

        I think Ray works for the FTC. Or maybe he’s a plumber, I don’t know.

        Hey Ray, maybe you should send all your stuff to the FTC and get it cleared before you run it?

        And Ray as you know, the FTC isn’t the final word. There’s always an appeal. I have a special plumber for that. My United States District Court plumber.

        I know you already know this Ray but,
        the FTC appeals cases all the time. Why? Because they lose…a lot. Just because the FTC says it, doesn’t make it law. One of the main reasons the FTC sues, is to make law by precedent.

        You can also sue the FTC. The ABA is threatening to sue them. It goes both ways.
        Maybe they should fear us? There are more of us than there are of them.

        I can see it now, the Wall Street Journal headline. 276,987 individual suits filed against the FTC and many more expected.

        It must also be said that the FTC probably has done some good stuff too. I’m sure they have protected me from something. I’m not anti-FTC.

        Well, I’m next in line for a swine flu shot so time to go.

        P.S. That Simple Writing System really works.
        Go get it now!

        • Ray says:

          Sorry for the confusion John. Should have replied directly to Earnst’s comment.

          Earnst, all I was saying was that your comment was wrong. Your testimonials can be true, but might still get you in hot water under the new guidelines.

          Example: “I lost 50 pounds taking XYZ pill.” Might be true, but not ok if your testimonial also ran 3 miles each morning and ate only oatmeal and that info doesn’t appear anywhere in the ad.

          Asking for forgiveness rather than permission can be a dynamic strategy. Just need to be careful, that’s all I’m saying.

          As a note: If you have the resources to fight a legal battle with a government agency, have fun. I don’t and I bet most of us don’t.

  • Earnst says:


    Sorry, but I am not wrong. I said DO NOT LIE.
    In your example, you lie by omission.

    Do not lie in your ad copy or your testimonials. That’s what I said.

  • […] John Carlton’s take on the above matter John Carlton The Marketing Rebel Rant Share and […]

  • Copywriting software…

    Very interesting post. On the other hand, good copywriters are very well considerated because they achieve very good results. For exemple, a good headline can make that much more people read your post. Richard Kein…

  • […] Here’s a quote from copywriting legend, and ultra-level-headed marketer, John Carlton, on his blog… […]

  • Christopher says:

    John, for the first time ever when reading your copy, you mangaged to loose me, to let me off the hook so to speak:
    “You know… so no one would get confused. We don’t want anybody’s head exploding because they accidentally read an ad in Cosmo, thinking it was a real article.”
    This let me ROTFL almost literally, I stopped reading after that and headed over to dust off that old REM record. Thanks for a nice day!

  • >