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What could Britney Spears, Shaquille O'Neal and Bob Dole have in common? Pepsi. They've all appeared in its TV ads. The use of celebrities to pitch products is as old as, well, Bob Dole. But proposed updated guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission are more specific about what's allowed in such endorsements.
The basic rule is simple. If, say, Madonna appears as herself in an ad and says she uses Acme cooking oil, her statement must be true. The proposed guidelines offer examples of ads that cross the line. One scenario: While shooting an infomercial for a roasting bag that's supposed to cook a chicken in 30 minutes, an actor sees the bag repeatedly fail. If he then makes the claim on camera, he is breaking the rule—even if he's reading from a script. "If consumers are likely to view the statement as the person's experience or his opinion, then he can be liable if he has information that suggests that what he's saying is not true," says Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices. That could mean a payment or an order to stop making the claim.
A fine line
The amended guidelines also address, for the first time, celebrities' informal mention of products in media appearances (on talk shows, for instance) or in new media such as blogs. Celebrities who have a financial relationship with the product's manufacturer should disclose that link in their product plug.
Kelly in her kitchen