Consumer reviews have become an important part of the advertising ecosystem. These reviews are very influential to potential customers when they are making a purchasing 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 at all.
Although consumer reviews have such a significant impact, the Turkish Law did not have a specific legislation until recently but consumer reviews were subject to general advertising rules set forth under Consumer Protection Law, the Regulation on Commercial Advertisement and Unfair Commercial Practices (“Advertising Regulation”) as well as Turkish Commercial Code. Accordingly, the consumer reviews should be in compliance with the general principles of ethics, public order, individual rights and good faith principle; they should not be misleading, and all the claims should be true and provable.
However the Advertising Regulation was amended on 1st of February 2022 with the effective date as 1st of March 2022. Specific rules for consumer reviews were introduced into Turkish law by this amendment. Two new articles were included in the existing Advertising Regulation one with the title “Consumer Reviews” as Article 28/B and the other with the title “Procedure for Publishing Consumer Complaints” as Article 28/C.
- Article 28/B about Consumer Reviews restricted the right to publish consumer reviews to those who have actually purchased the relevant product or service. People who have not purchased a product or service on the relevant website are not allowed to publish consumer review.
- It is ruled that the consumers should be informed of the principles for publishing consumer reviews either directly on the relevant webpage where the reviews are published or through a pop-up link that directs the consumers to a more detailed information page.
- It is obligatory to publish consumer reviews for at least one year without any guidance, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, and based on objective criteria like date, ranking, seller name.
- Any consumer review which is found to be inappropriate for being published based on pre-determined criteria should immediately be notified to the consumer who made the review.
- If a consumer’s dissatisfaction with the reviewed goods and services is remedied by the seller and if this is confirmed by the consumer, this review should be published under the respective earlier negative review.
- Fake comments and entering into such agreements for purchasing such fake comment services are prohibited.
- Finally it is prohibited to publish consumer reviews with health claims contrary to its own specific legislation.
The Advertisement Board, which is established within the body of Ministry of Trade and is entitled for surveillance of advertisements in any media, gives utmost importance to health claims. In this respect the amendment introducing a new provision specific to health claims is very important. The health claim legislation is quite detailed and complex. The violation could either be through unfair, untrue, misleading health claims or health claims which are not permitted under the specific legislation. It is prohibited under Turkish Law to advertise food and food supplements with health claims in a way to create misunderstanding of having therapeutic effects on human metabolism like pharmaceuticals. It is also prohibited to use health claims without obtaining official permission from the Ministry of Health.
Apart from the above, detailed provisions regarding the procedure for publishing consumer complaints were introduced into Turkish Law. As per Article 28/C of the Advertising Regulation;
- At the consumer complaint platforms that publish consumer complaints; vendors or providers about whom the evaluation has been made should be given at least seventy-two (72) hours toexercise their right to make a statement or reply before the publication of the complaint. Reviews will not be published before this period expires or if they are found to be inaccurate. Such complaint platforms should provide the vendors or providers with an effective communication method, who may use the right to make a statement regarding the complaint, regardless of subscription requirement.
Before the legal rules about consumer reviews and complaints were introduced into Turkish law, the Advertisement Board scrutinized the consumer reviews shared by the brands in relation to advertising of their products and services; queried the trueness of these claims, conformity thereof to general advertising rules. The Advertisement Board imposed sanctions against advertisements because they are misleading due to consumer reviews which incorporate unproven or abstract claims, statements regarding the benefits of the offered goods and services. Similarly, there are numerous decisions of the Advertisement Board where the Advertisement Board examined the consumer reviews published by the brands in their websites, social media pages or in other media like magazines, newspapers, product labeling about food and food supplements with wrong, unpermitted, misleading health claims and mentioning therapeutic effects like pharmaceuticals. The Advertisement Board found these advertisements misleading and violating the specific rules for health claims.
For example; in its decision dated 10 August 2021 and numbered 2021/1977 the Advertisement Board scrutinized the advertisement of a food supplement in an e-commerce website. The Advertisement Board held that the consumer reviews about the product as to its effects of providing well-sleeping, soothing the tension and stress are misleading health claims, because the promoted product as a food supplement is advertised like a pharmaceutical with therapeutic effects on human metabolism. The scrutinized advertisement was ordered to be ceased by the Advertisement Board.
In its another interesting decision dated 8 December 2020 and numbered 2020/3312 about consumer reviews and complaints the Advertisement Board examined the website www.incirciamca.com upon complaint and determined that the vendor removes from its website the consumer complaints about the defective goods and other consumer complaints about delivery conditions. The Advertisement Board held that the consumers only see positive consumer reviews due to the removal of complaints by the vendor and purchasing decision of the consumers browsing the website is negatively affected. As the result the Advertisement Board concluded that these acts constitute unfair commercial practice and ordered them to be ceased.
One interesting decision was rendered by the Advertisement Board in January 2022 right before the new rules about consumer reviews and complaints were enacted. In a consumer complaint platform – www.sikayetvar.com a consumer complaint was published under the relevant page for a Turkish bank about an employee of the bank in relation to the employee’s private rental contract for his house with his landlord who published the consumer complaint about the bank. Since the private rental contract of the employee has no relation with the services provided by the bank and the consumer complaint was irrelevant, the Advertisement Board found the consumer complaint misleading as to the services of the bank subject to the complaint, evaluated the complaint as detrimental to the reputation of the bank, ordered for the consumer complaint to be ceased and imposed against the complaint platform administrative monetary fine corresponding to TRL 114.326 (approximately Euro 7.000).
Since the enactment of the specific advertising rules regarding consumer reviews and complaints is very recent, the practice of the Advertisement Board for consumer reviews and complaints has not been established yet. Even before these legal rules we see that the Board found itself competent for scrutinizing the consumer reviews and complaints, rendered prominent decisions on grounds of misleading advertisement and unfair commercial practices.
Finally, The Advertisement Board is explicitly authorized by the recent amendments to prepare guidelines for enlightening the implementation of the Advertising Regulation. The Advertisement Board had this authority and recently published a Guideline regarding social media advertising. The Advertisement Board might be expected to issue a Guideline related with consumer reviews as well.
First published by GALA Blog, in 25.04.2022