Many different health-related products use an endorsement by a doctor, celebrity, or use patient testimonials as proof of its effectiveness. But Let’s take a look at some of the most common endorsement tactics and see if they really do have any merit.

Tactic #1 – The PHONY Endorsement

The most common tactic of the shadiest companies is to pretend their product is endorsed by a doctor when in fact it is not. By far, the most popular target of this charade is Dr. Mehmet Oz. Many of these websites and emails claim Dr. Oz backs their particular product, even though Dr. Oz himself has specifically distanced himself from the practice. “I am not and have never been a paid spokesperson for any particular brand, supplement or product,” he said in blog post on his website.  

While this is the most blatant and illegal tactic used to sell products, many other websites use a more subtle method. They’ll have a banner that says “Doctor Approved,” or have a stock photo of a person with a stethoscope and white jacket. Like this guy:

Stock image of a doctor
“Doctor Approved” (Photo: statesc.southcarolinablues.com)

An interesting thing to note is that these sites also often use the Caduceus of Mercury (aka 2 snakes on a staff) instead of the Staff of Asclepius (1 snake). The Staff is used by most professional medical organizations (like the World Health Organization and American Medical Association), where the Caduceus is primarily used by commercial enterprises. Mercury, after all, is the god of commerce, eloquence, invention, travel, and theft.

Caduceus of Mercury vs. Staff of Asclepius
​Know your SNAKES!

TACTIC #2 – The PAID Endorsement

On the other end of the spectrum is the “legitimate” association between a medical practitioner or celebrity to promote their product. For example, Jane Seymour is the face of Crepe Erase, a fancy anti-aging cream. Indeed Ms. Seymour, who is in her 60s still looks young and beautiful, these images of her are carefully shot and she is wearing a lot of makeup. And while she may tout the benefits of using Crepe Erase, remember that she is paid to do so.

Although Dr. Oz may not specifically endorse any brand or product, there are plenty of other doctors that are not ashamed to cross the medicine/commerce barrier. Drs. John Layke and Payman Danielpour are the MDs behind Beverly Hills MD, a line of fancy cosmeceuticals. While they may be sincere behind their efforts, they have a financial interest in every bottle sold as well.

Sometimes the power of celebrity is used in an inappropriate way, raising the ire of the Government. For example, while Doctor Oz insists he doesn’t endorse specific products, his television program The Dr. Oz Show touts the benefits of many different compounds often based on very flimsy evidence. 

A notable example was when Dr. Oz praised green coffee extract as a “miracle” weight loss product. The subsequent frenzy for green coffee allowed many shady companies to sprout up overnight, bilking consumers of millions. Dr. Oz was called to testify before Congress where he tearfully admitted many things on his show “don’t have the scientific muster to be presented as fact.” 

Dr. Oz testifies before Congress

Recently another celeb made headlines for inappropriate endorsements. Kim Kardashian posted a selfie on Instagram of her holding a bottle of Diclegis, a prescription morning sickness pill, and said she was feeling a lot better after taking it. 

The FDA immediately sent a warning letter to the company Duchesnay, Inc. noting that the posting did not include information about side effects and to immediately cease and desist. Duchesnay did not disclose the terms of the agreement between Ms. Kardashian and did remove the posting. But the ensuing publicity and awareness was certainly worth the effort, especially since no fine was levied against the company.

Kim Kardashian's selfie on Instagram of her holding a bottle of Diclegis
​OMG!

Because the FDA is so overwhelmed with the task of monitoring social media, they have created a Bad Ad campaign, where they are asking healthcare providers to alert them of any misleading products they see advertised. 

TACTIC #3 – The Scripted Testimonial

Sometimes a company may use a testimonial from a doctor or a “real” person that is actually carefully scripted. Usually, you’ll have to look at the fine print to see a notice, which states that they are paid endorsements. Or, they’ll have a doctor who makes a general statement (like “compression helps with recovery”) without mentioning a specific product.

You might also want to take a closer look that the credentials of the “doctor” pitching the product. One company, Diabetes Free uses a Doctor Peterson to pitch their ebook – the problem is that Doctor Peterson does not exist

Other times it’s a chiropractor (D.C.) trained in a Chiropractic college to treat conditions of the spine and not a medical doctor (M.D.) who graduated from a four-year medical school; the two have completely different theories of study, and some think chiropractic is outright quackery. Others just put meaningless titles (“Doctor of Wellness,” “Natural Practitioner”) to confuse you. You can find a list of established medical acronyms here.

Then there are the supposedly real people in a shopping mall who appear to try the product and find instant relief (or whatever they’re supposed to feel). While these may be a little more spontaneous, they can hardly be considered unbiased. Many people love being on camera and will react the way they are told; after all, the negative responses end up on the cutting room floor.

Concluding Thoughts on Endorsements

Companies that are supposedly trying to help you often use a lot of unscrupulous, if not downright shady tactics to try to make you think their product really works. Here’s what you can do:

  • Be skeptical of any claims made by celebrities as they are most certainly paid for their endorsement.
  • Caution should also be applied to any doctor endorsements. You may want to Google their name or look them up on WebMD.
  • Look for endorsements from people who have actually used the product and not on the company in question’s website. 
  • A great place to start for unbiased, real reviews is right here on BrightReviews.com!

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