Are Paid, Fake Customer Testimonials a Good Idea for Your Business?

by Marcus Sheridan

Maybe I’m naive but I was blown away the other day by an email solicitation I received from a ‘Paid Video Testimonial’ Company. Upon visiting their website, I read the following headline and subsequent copy:

Real People. Real Video Testimonials.

We Will Review Your Product Or Website And Film A Positive Video Testimonial You Can Use In Your Marketing And Promotions, To Build Customer Trust And Skyrocket Your Sales In Under 14 Days!

If you have a business, website or sell products on the internet you know just how hard it is to get high quality, sincerely positive testimonials to enhance your marketing. Even if your product is awesome and people love it – getting them to take time out of their day, sit down in front of a camera, and do you a favour of a testimonial is near IMPOSSIBLE!

NOT ANY MORE…

Forget having to chase up ex-clients for a testimonial!

Simply get one of our real, authentic, down-to-earth people to record one for you. Your business and marketing will shoot through the roof!

We personally review your e-product and or website and get one of our team to record a positive testimonial for you to upload and use on your website or youtube promotions.

Are Paid Videos Ethical?

video testimonials

'I want the truth!'

As many of you know, I’ve talked quite a bit about the power of video and video testimonials for business marketing and branding in the past. No doubt, every website, and I really do mean EVERY, should show a mix of textual and video testimonials. As an example, just go to my Web Coaching page and you’ll see how I’ve set it up here on The Sales Lion. Or visit my pool company’s website where I have at least one testimonial of some type on almost every page.

Now granted, I do understand the company that sent me this email stated they would review the product after it was sent to them. In other words, they could hypothetically say that the videos are by no means ‘fake’, considering they’ve had to review the actual product.

Notwithstanding, this whole idea does not sit well with me for a variety of reasons:

#1: They ain’t real: Call them what you want, but they ain’t real. A customer is a customer, an ‘actor’ is an actor….and in this case, an actor is a ‘fake’. Such a practice is the opposite of transparency in my opinion.

#2: How could a business owner be so desperate? In their ad copy above, the company states that getting a customer testimonial is nearly ‘impossible’. If I may say in no uncertain terms, this is a total load of horse dung. In my 10 years of being in business, I’ve never had a happy customer tell me they weren’t willing to give a testimonial. There have been countless instances when my business partners and I have simply, in the midst of conversing with a customer, whipped out one of our little flip cameras and recorded a quick 60 second blurb. The effort, beyond actually buying the camera (these days you can just do it on your phone), is absolutely minimal.

#3: A rat smells like a rat: Consumers ain’t dumb. As humans, we all have a general ability to pick up  another’s sincerity—or lack thereof for that matter. If you as a business owner elect to utilize fake testimonials, you very well may hurt your brand much more than you actually help it.

Be Real or Disclose It

So how do I feel about paid customer testimonials? Well, I’m sure you’ve gotten my point by now. But if you do feel that such a questionable practice is your only option, then you should at least follow the example of the health and drug industry and offer a full disclosure to consumers. But I have to ask myself why anyone would ever get to this point. Again, testimonials, at least for quality-driven companies, are very easy to gather. Whether it’s a web-cam, a flip-cam, or simply a camera on your cell phone; take advantage of technology and gather as many of these all-important social proofs as possible.

Now that you’ve heard my thoughts, I’d very much like to know yours. How do you feel about paid video testimonials? Legit or not? C’mon, speak your mind and jump in the conversation below.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Marciniak November 28, 2010 at

Marcus, I was floored when I read this post! Now I’ll admit, it’s not always easy to get your happy client to follow up and actually write the testimonial they promised you, but that’s no excuse to fake it. What do you say if a prospect says “Bill looked so happy in his video for you, I’d love to go see his project. When can we go?” Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2010 at

I see your reaction was just like mine Dave…but I guess anything is for sale these days….That would be pretty funny if a prospect did request a call or meeting with ‘that guy on the video’….hilarious.

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Mark November 28, 2010 at

I always chuckle to myself when I watch late night infomercials with paid actors acting the role of “satisfied customer”. I think the web is a much more personal medium, and this kind of fakery won’t be as effective. Savvy customers can’t be fooled that easily. I also think it’s very hard to fake an authentic interview on the actual site with the actual customer… hence the power of video.

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2010 at

I very much agree Mark that the web is much more personal…..or at least it darn well should be. Everything about the way consumers buy things is advancing, and like you say, this includes their ability to decipher what’s real and what’s bologna…

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Nathan November 28, 2010 at

A paid testimonial as you so eloquently put it Marcus, is a load of horse dung. I can tell when somebody is a paid actor, so why would I think a potential customer of mine can’t. And I have never had a satified customer so no to giving a testimonial or being on a referral list. Heck we have customers that we have had issues on their jobs ask to be on referral lists and are more than happy to write a testimonial because my company goes above and beyond to take care of them. Like you said, if you are a quality driven company you have no problems with this.

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2010 at

Yes, my eloquence is never lacking with such a deep grasp of the English language Nathan ;-) ….But seriously, you are spot-on regarding referral lists and testimonials– If we just do good work they ain’t hard to come by. This is why this whole idea of actually spending money to fake it makes me slap my forehead :-)

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Dia November 29, 2010 at

Hi Marcus,

I believe in a proverb called, “Honesty is the best policy.” There is nothing like honesty in life and in business. I agree with you, most of the customers will be happy to give testimonials if you ask for them, so why pay to get a fake testimonial, it is full of negativity anyway. Thanks for sharing my friend.
.-= Dia´s last blog ..How to defend your idea without getting defensive =-.

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Marcus Sheridan November 30, 2010 at

‘Full of Negativity’ is right my friend….Talk about bad karma….Geez

Thx for stopping in Dia :-)

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Jk November 29, 2010 at

Marcus – I share your same disappointment! I can’t believe some of the tactics people use to “try” to get ahead. Paying for a testimonial is just as bad as making one up yourself. There should always be an integrity component involved in business dealings, and paying someone for the review of a product, specifically when they aren’t even a “real” consumer, is shady.

Patience is key…if the product is truly good, in time real reviews/testimonials will emerge. If a given company can’t get a testimonial – and entertains paying for one – they should first reevaluate what they are selling and why they are selling it.
.-= Jk´s last blog ..The Power of Simplification =-.

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Marcus Sheridan November 30, 2010 at

If a given company can’t get a testimonial – and entertains paying for one – they should first reevaluate what they are selling and why they are selling it.

Can I give that a big ‘ol Heck Yeah Hustle!!!

Strong bro, really strong.

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Samuel November 29, 2010 at

Awesome post bro! Yeah, i believe that they are not real and they are not sure of their services. Why should they go for paid testimonials? if you are sure of your services, customers will surely give you a testimony! That’s just the fact. Thanks a lot for sharing. Have fun.

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Marcus Sheridan November 30, 2010 at

Thank you Samuel…and you’re right my friend, it is a fact that people will happily share a testimonial for a good product. Heck, that’s all social media is really in one way, shape, or form.

Thanks for commenting! :-)

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phil November 29, 2010 at

just tell them the pool is 2000 miles away in a very hard to get to location…if your using actors on a made up testimonial its a lie anyway, right??

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Marcus Sheridan November 30, 2010 at

Tis a lie Phil….or as I like to say…..total Horse Dung :-)

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Leon Noone November 30, 2010 at

G’Day Marcus,
To use a good ole Aussie expression, “Bloody Hell!” Thanks for raising this issue. I’m with you. It’s hard to make a case that doesn’t include the word “deception.”

If you have to resort to these sort of tactics, you shouldn’t be in business. And the people who promote this stuff………….! The mind boggles.

Yes, I am a curmudgeon and proud of it.

Regards

Leon

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Marcus Sheridan December 1, 2010 at

A ‘curmodgeon’ you say?? Hmmm, now that’s a new one Leon. ;-) …Gotta tell you man, you’re ‘down under’ vernacular always gives me major smiles.

The mind does boggle at such tactics….love your fire Leon.

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Christina Crowe November 30, 2010 at

I’m totally with you Marcus. If your product or service is so horrible that no one would be willing to give you a testimonial, then you should seriously think about your business and where it’s heading. Or, rather, if your business is right for you.

To be honest, paid testimonials seriously disgust me. You might as well create the testimonial yourself. By paying for a fake testimonial (and it is fake if the person giving the testimonial hasn’t experienced your product or service for himself yet), you’re deceiving your potential customers and digging a hole for yourself.

Even if you don’t have customers yet, you can still get a real testimonial without paying for paid crap. Simply give out a few copies of your product for free, or, if it’s a service, offer it to a few people for free. The people you give it to can be anyone – a close friend, family, whatever. You can even do what I did and host a contest, giving away your product or service to the winning participants. That way, you’re both building exposure, creating exciting anticipation, and being real all at the same time.

There’s no reason why you should ever have to stoop down so low as to pay for your own testimonials – that is, if your business isn’t utterly totally crap. If that’s the case, find a new career.

That may come off rough – but it’s the hard truth, at least, from how I see it.

Christina
.-= Christina Crowe´s last blog ..5 Ways Clutter and Mess Affect Your Concentration =-.

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Marcus Sheridan December 1, 2010 at

Wow Christina, now that was awesome…You may call it ‘rough’, but I simply see it as being honest. Considering your integrity and passion Christina, I must admit I’m not at all surprised at your reaction, as you’re as real as they come…which is why I think you’re awesome. ;-)

Speaking of testimonials, I’ll be mentioning your eBook soon that you sent me to check out….so proud of you!!!!

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Christina Crowe December 11, 2010 at

Aww, thanks Marcus! You don’t have to of course, but I’m so happy to finally get the launch off of my shoulders. :)

I try to be honest with myself, just as much as I am with others. So, the thought of “cheating” my way towards success just doesn’t fit well with me, and I guess that’s why I feel so strongly about it.

Anyway, thanks so much for your support thus far! You’re one of the amazing people I was happy to meet throughout the year, and, as long as you continue writing for this blog, I will continue following your progress. :)

Christina
.-= Christina Crowe´s last blog ..eHow Experiment 06- Analyzing Keywords and Tracking Results =-.

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Tristan December 1, 2010 at

Yeah I’ll go ahead and throw in my opinion, though it pretty much echoes what everyone else has already said.

I think paid testimonials are SUPER sketchy! I mean sure, they could technically “review” your product, but they’re not a customer of yours. They didn’t buy your product. Surely if you’ve got a legit company, you won’t have to pay strangers to record testimonials for you!

So yeah… I’m definitely not a fan :)

Thanks for the great post, Marcus! If you ever need a testimonial about your blog (does anyone even have testimonials about their blog? Hmmm… That might be kind of cool, actually…), let me know :) Though I’m horrifically uncomfortable in front of a camera, I CAN write!
.-= Tristan´s last blog ..Help Me Decide What Product to Come Out With on Blogging Bookshelf! =-.

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Marcus Sheridan December 1, 2010 at

Yes, you sure as heck can write Tristan….Dang dude, as fast as you’ve grown your blog is an example to all of us.

So you don’t like the camera huh??? Hah! I can’t wait till your first video….my money says you’ll make one within the next 6 months….and you’ll learn to love it. :-)

Thanks for stopping in man.

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Tristan December 2, 2010 at

I’ve done several screen capture videos so far, and I have tried a couple me-sitting-in-my-chair-in-front-of-the-camera videos. They just didn’t turn out too well. It’s not that I don’t like the camera–I have nothing against it and I think video is an awesome medium for blogging and selling–I just don’t think very well on my feet. It’s hard for me to speak fluidly in front of the camera.

I expect I’ll do one sooner than 6 months! I’ll keep trying until I come up with one I like!
.-= Tristan´s last blog ..Help Me Decide What Product to Come Out With on Blogging Bookshelf! =-.

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Al@top 10 antivirus December 2, 2010 at

I don’t trust any of them before i tried it myself, can’t really believe them, since you can pay someone for $5 for anything nowadays.
.-= Al@top 10 antivirus´s last blog ..Installing Avira free antivirus and premium =-.

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Marcus Sheridan December 2, 2010 at

Yes, tis true Al….What’s the name of that site where people offer crazy services for $5? ….nuts what you can get out there.

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Social Kevin December 3, 2010 at

Great points Marcus. On our website we have a page for testimonials and occasionally have people make their own videos and put them on Youtube.
http://www.youtube.com/user/amplivoxsound#p/a/f/2/6OzVIxuMRBM

I think that if a business were to make a contest saying “best testimonial video wins a gift card” or something like that can be an effective way to generate testimonials. It can be hard depending on the target market, like ours (people in 40′s and 50′s buying portable sound systems and lecterns), because they may not be social media/techonlogy savvy enough to do that.

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Marcus Sheridan December 3, 2010 at

A contest is actually a really good idea Kevin, nice point man. :-)

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Jack February 2, 2011 at

Hi what I want to know about this is if maybe it would OK for me to do the fake video testimonial for a fake product, because I have things On my website and they’re not really a real thing so maybe it would be ok for me to do the fake testimonials for one of those but i’d still make a review copy for them I think, maybe.

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Julie Weishaar October 9, 2011 at

Hi Marcus. I feel exactly the same way you do. I just saw a website with these paid testimonials and they say it “builds trust” – hello? What am I missing here? Trust? Crazy world we live in!

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Marcus Sheridan October 9, 2011 at

Yup, completely with you Julie. I think it’s even getting to a point where many consumers can smell a fake testimonial from a mile away.

Good seeing you lady!

Marcus

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Julie Weishaar October 10, 2011 at

You know what bothers me the most? That they blatantly describe their services on the web – I just don’t get it! I have a few glowing REAL ones LOL

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shemalelesbianporn.blogspot.com September 9, 2013 at

Heya, I am a greenhorn blogger annd I really enjoy reading this blog, so I was thinking perhaps I could receive your help with something.
Do you list everybody’s responses? Even the ones that piss you off?

I’m not sure what to do.

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http://hugemilftits.blogspot.com September 9, 2013 at

In the words of Jack Kerouac: “It is not what you write, it’s how you write it.” And you do it very well!I simply can not decide if I should
share this blog with my buddies or keep it as my own private secret…

Reply

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