New regulations regarding the use of consumer reviews – Advertising, marketing and branding

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Consumer reviews have become an important part of the advertising ecosystem. These reviews are very influential to potential customers when making a purchase decision. Marketers use reviews in advertising, they host reviews on their websites, they encourage consumers to post reviews on other sites, and some even try to prevent customers from posting negative reviews.

Although consumer reviews have such a big impact, Turkish law did not have specific legislation until recently, but consumer reviews were subject to the general advertising rules set out in the Consumer Protection Law, the Regulation on Commercial Advertising and Unfair Commercial Practices (“Advertising Regulation”) as well as the Turkish Commercial Code. Consequently, consumer opinions must comply with the general principles of ethics, public order, individual rights and the principle of good faith; they must not be misleading and all claims must be true and provable.

However, the Advertising Regulation was amended on February 1, 2022 with the effective date of March 1, 2022. Specific rules for consumer reviews were introduced in Turkish law by this amendment. Two new articles have been included in the existing Advertising Regulations, one with the title “Consumer Notices” as Article 28/B and the other with the title “Consumer Complaint Publication Procedure” as Article 28/ vs.

As a result;

  • Article 28/B on consumer reviews limited the right to publish consumer reviews to those who have actually purchased the product or service concerned. Persons who have not purchased a product or service from the relevant website are not permitted to post a consumer review.

  • It is decided that consumers should be informed of the principles of publication of consumer reviews either directly on the relevant web page where the reviews are published or via a contextual link which directs consumers to a more detailed information page.

  • It is mandatory to publish consumer reviews for at least one year without any indication, whether positive or negative, and on the basis of objective criteria such as date, classification, name of the seller.

  • Any consumer review deemed inappropriate for publication based on pre-determined criteria must be immediately notified to the consumer who posted the review.

  • If a consumer’s dissatisfaction with the goods and services reviewed is corrected by the seller and if this is confirmed by the consumer, this review must be published under the respective previous negative review.

  • False reviews and entering into such agreements for the purchase of such fake review services are prohibited.

  • Finally, it is prohibited to publish consumer reviews with health claims contrary to its own specific legislation.

The Advertising Council, which is established within the Department of Commerce and is empowered to monitor advertisements in all media, places the utmost importance on health claims. In this regard, the amendment introducing a new provision specific to health claims is very important. Health claims legislation is quite detailed and complex. The violation may be either by unfair, false, misleading health claims or health claims that are not permitted by specific legislation. It is prohibited by Turkish law to advertise foods and dietary supplements with health claims in such a way as to create misunderstanding about the therapeutic effects on human metabolism like pharmaceuticals. It is also prohibited to use health claims without having obtained official authorization from the Ministry of Health.

In addition to the above, detailed provisions regarding the procedure for publishing consumer complaints have been introduced in Turkish legislation. In accordance with Article 28/C of the Advertising Regulation;

  • To consumer complaints platforms that publish consumer complaints; the sellers or providers subject to the evaluation must have at least seventy-two (72) hours to exercise their right of declaration or reply before the publication of the complaint. Reviews will not be published before the expiry of this period or if they are found to be inaccurate. These complaint platforms should provide sellers or suppliers with an effective method of communication, which can use the right to make a statement regarding the complaint, regardless of the subscription requirement.

Before the legal rules on consumer reviews and complaints were introduced into Turkish law, the Advertising Council reviewed the consumer reviews shared by brands in relation to the advertising of their products and services; questioned the veracity of these assertions, their conformity with the general rules of publicity. The Advertising Council has imposed penalties on advertisements for being misleading due to consumer reviews that incorporate unproven or abstract claims, statements regarding the benefits of goods and services on offer. Similarly, there are numerous Advertising Commission decisions in which the Advertising Commission reviewed consumer reviews posted by brands on their websites, social media pages or in other media such as magazines, newspapers, product labeling on foods and dietary supplements with false, unauthorized, misleading health claims and mentioning therapeutic effects like pharmaceuticals. The Advertising Commission found these advertisements to be misleading and in breach of rules specific to health claims.

For example; in its decision of August 10, 2021 and numbered 2021/1977, the Régie de la Publicité controlled the advertising of a food supplement on an e-commerce site. The Advertising Commission found that consumer reviews of the product as to its effects on sleeping well, easing tension and stress are misleading health claims, as the product being promoted as a dietary supplement is advertised as a drug with therapeutic effects on human metabolism. . Controlled advertising has been ordered to cease by the Advertising Commission.

In its other interesting decision dated December 8, 2020 and numbered 2020/3312 regarding consumer reviews and complaints, the Advertising Commission reviewed the website www.incirciamca.com following a complaint and determined that the seller removes of its website consumer complaints about defective products and other consumer complaints about delivery conditions. The Advertising Commission found that consumers only saw positive consumer reviews due to the removal of complaints by the seller and that the purchase decision of consumers browsing the website was negatively affected. Accordingly, the Advertising Commission concluded that these acts constituted an unfair commercial practice and ordered that they be discontinued.

An interesting decision was made by the Advertising Commission in January 2022 just before the adoption of the new consumer reviews and complaints rules. In a consumer complaint platform – www.sikayetvar.com – a consumer complaint was posted on the relevant page of a Turkish bank regarding a bank employee in relation to the employee’s private lease agreement for his house with his landlord who published the consumer complaint about the bank. Since the employee’s private hire contract had no relation to the services provided by the bank and the consumer’s complaint was irrelevant, the advertising commission found the consumer’s complaint to be misleading as to the services of the bank subject to the complaint, assessed the complaint as detrimental to the reputation of the bank, ordered the cessation of the consumer’s complaint and imposed on the complaint platform an administrative fine of an amount of 114,326 TRL (about 7,000 euros).

Since the promulgation of the rules specific to consumer reviews and complaints advertising is very recent, the practice of the Consumer Reviews and Complaints Advertising Board has not yet been established. Even before these legal rules, we note that the Council was competent to examine the opinions and complaints of consumers, made important decisions on grounds of misleading advertising and unfair commercial practices.

Finally, the Advertising Committee is explicitly authorized by the recent amendments to prepare guidelines to inform the implementation of the Advertising Regulation. The Advertising Council had this power and recently issued a guideline regarding social media advertising. One would expect the Advertising Council to issue a consumer review directive as well.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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