The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, for the first time since 1998, updated its advertising guidelines for health-related products and services.

These new rules impact endorsements, testimonials, claims, and other marketing and advertising techniques. Companies that produce food, over-the-counter drugs, devices, and health-related products should take note: the FTC expects companies to back up any claim or statement with reasonable, scientific evidence.

They’re not talking about substantiating with junk science. The FTC now requires high-quality, randomized, controlled human clinical trials.

This shift aims to prevent unfair or deceptive acts or practices while also regulating the expectations of health and wellness promotion. Ultimately, it ensures consumers get the quality information they need to make decisions for their health.

Here’s what healthcare companies need to know about the new rules as it applies to PR strategies.

  • Emphasize clarity: A crucial change in the FTC guidelines specifies that standard and qualified claims must be “clean and conspicuous.” This distinction rejects vague terminology common in healthcare, including language like “helps reduce blood pressure.” To a person seeing or hearing this claim quickly and casually, a consumer may think that the product has been proven to reduce blood pressure when no evidence supports the claim. Under the new rules, claims must be backed by relevant, peer-reviewed scientific research.
  • Prioritize due diligence: The new guidelines underscore the importance of detail-oriented work. For example, confirming that marketing materials align with the FTC guidelines and other agency requirements may become a tedious and long process. By having strong cohesion within teams working on a project and a thorough review process, practitioners can be confident that they have followed the new protocols.
  • Verify sources: The requirement for randomized, controlled human clinical trials significantly changes the standards for health-related claims. Use industry knowledge and conduct additional research into reputable studies from universities, research labs and industry leaders. This will help you avoid making vague and unfounded claims. Regardless of whether research is conducted in-house or through a third party, practitioners must confirm that the studies comply with the new guidelines and are devoid of dubious or unsupported assertions.
  • Stay informed: When new legislation is put forth, professionals should also monitor the enforcement of the new rule. By observing how competitors and industry-adjacent companies and organizations adjust to the guidelines, you can identify best practices and refrain from breaking the code.

What’s next

While the rules today focus on the healthcare industry, any company doing promotional communications may be subject to the changes. The best practices shared in this article apply beyond the healthcare industry in establishing credibility and integrity in communications.

If you’re interested in developing a dynamic strategy to seamlessly integrate sweeping changes like these, contact us to learn more


RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based PR agency with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.