What sports nutrition brands need to know about endorsements and influencer marketing


Celebs and influencers can bring in sales, but working with them may pose regulatory risks.

Photo © Kudryavtsev / Stock.adobe.com

Photo © Kudryavtsev / Stock.adobe.com

Celebrity and influencer endorsements carry tremendous value for sports nutrition brands. The name recognition and exposure from these endorsements can help brands appeal to new audiences and boost sales—but the tactic’s efficacy is exactly why the Federal Trade Commission is watching endorsements closely. Several recent cases from FTC and the National Advertising Division demonstrate how endorsements can go awry. With the FTC currently formulating new rules around endorsements, sports brands would do well to exercise caution when engaging influencers. Here are some of the benefits and risks of celebrity endorsements, as well as some of the best ways to get results without running into legal trouble.

Celebrity Endorsements Pack a Marketing Punch

Celebrity and influencer endorsements are a high-value marketing approach, especially for sports brands. John Villafranco, a partner at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP (Washington, DC), is an advertising compliance and FTC matters lawyer. He’s also a member of Nutritional Outlook’s Editorial Advisory Board. Villafranco says celebrity endorsements have several benefits for brands.“Consumers admire these people,” Villafranco notes. “If someone like Tom Brady is using a product, then that’s effective marketing. Brands want to generate trust, and having a trustworthy celebrity providing an endorsement is one way to do that.”

While influencers are a relatively new phenomenon, celebrity endorsements have been around for decades. Laura Brett, vice president of BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (New York City), says celebrity endorsements have been a tried-and-true way for brands to stand out from competitors. Quite simply: Endorsements have staying power because they work.

Truth-In-Advertising Laws Make Endorsements Risky

While endorsements are a highly effective marketing tactic, they also present risks. On October 20, 2022, FTC voted in favor of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking targeting online reviews and endorsements.1 The commission is targeting not only fake reviews but also paid reviews and reviews solicited from people with a material connection to the company in question.

Brett says that brands should observe FTC guidance when using celebrity and influencer endorsements. Brands that fail to follow this guidance risk FTC enforcement action or a NAD challenge.

“Using celebrity and influencer endorsements without disclosing a material connection also puts at risk consumer trust in the brand and in the digital marketplace,” Brett says. “Consumers are wary of interacting with brands that aren’t transparent when advertising and may ultimately reject a marketing channel when consumer trust is undermined.”

Celebrity Endorsement Best Practices

While endorsements carry risks, sports nutrition brands can still reap the benefits of celebrity and influencer endorsements by exercising a few simple precautions. First, Villafranco says, brands should ensure that endorsers’ representations reflect the typical customer experience. If the endorser’s experience is exceptional, brands must state what the typical results would be.

“You want to be careful that the exceptional result doesn’t deviate so significantly from the expected result that there’s no way to quantify it,” he says. “Endorsers should only make claims based on what is true and can be adequately substantiated.”

Villafranco says brands should also document the influencer hiring process and ensure influencers understand what they can and cannot say. If the endorsement is coming from a physician or expert in a specific field, the brand must ensure the expert endorser has training, knowledge, or experience beyond that of a regular consumer.

Brands must also provide guidance to influencers regarding their responsibility to make truthful and accurate claims. It’s not just brands that can get into hot water over false or unsubstantiated claims; the influencers themselves are required to make accurate statements.

Brett points to a NAD case involving Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop (Santa Monica, CA). In this case, NAD reviewed articles on the Goop website featuring Gwyneth Paltrow drinking smoothies sprinkled with Moon Juice–brand “moon dust” dietary supplements.2

“These supplements touted a variety of benefits, including muscle recovery, improved focus, and stamina,” Brett says. “The Goop case provides guidance on the responsibility of endorsements to be truthful and accurate, and that endorsers must have substantiation for objective performance claims.”

The NAD decision explains that the health claims on Goop’s website, combined with the celebrity endorsement by Paltrow, place an onus on Goop as a brand to perform due diligence and ensure that Moon Juice does, in fact, provide the health benefits it claims to provide. Goop ultimately chose to discontinue the Moon Juice claims.

Wield Celebrity Power Responsibly

Celebrities and influencers can be highly effective brand allies. Alternatively, they can create new regulatory compliance risks for sports nutrition brands in an era when regulators are more active and vigilant than ever. FTC and the National Advertising Division are actively policing the sports nutrition market, with a special focus on influencer and celebrity endorsements. Brands that want to reap the benefits of celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing would do well to proactively police their ads for NAD and FTC compliance.

References [2 References]

  1. FTC to Explore Rulemaking to Combat Fake Reviews and Other Deceptive Endorsements. The Federal Trade Commission. October 20, 2022. Accessed January 13, 2023.
  2. Lifestyle Site ‘Goop’ Says It Will Voluntarily, Permanently Discontinue Claims for Moon Juice ‘Brain Dust,’ ‘Action Dust’ Following NAD Inquiry. News release. National Advertising Division. August 9, 2016. Accessed January 16, 2023. https://bbbprograms.org/media-center/dd/goop-moon-juice
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