For the millions of Americans struggling to reduce their alcohol intake or stop drinking altogether, a product called Sobrenix sounded like the answer. But according to the FTC, defendants Rejuvica LLC and corporate officers Kyle Armstrong and Kyle Dilger made numerous unsubstantiated representations and falsely claimed to have clinical proof that didn’t really exist, in violation of both the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act and the FTC Act. What’s more, the complaint alleges they made deceptive use of endorsements – both by having paid endorsers make TV appearances designed to look like independent news stories, but that were actually paid advertising and by creating a phony “review” website. The proposed settlement includes a financial remedy that will return money to consumers.
Containing a blend of kudzu root, milk thistle seed, angelica root, and other herbs and vitamins, a two-ounce supply of Sobrenix sold for about $34 on the company’s website and through Amazon and Walmart. The label directed people to take Sobrenix once in the morning “and then 30 minutes before drinking, or any time you have cravings.”
Controlling cravings was a key part of the defendants’ marketing strategy and Rejuvica pitched Sobrenix as a solution: “STRUGGLING TO CONTROL YOUR ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION? Sobrenix is designed to reduce alcohol cravings and help you detoxify your body so you can successfully manage alcohol consumption. Even better, taken before drinking, Sobrenix’s ingredients help you stop before you’ve had too much.”
Claiming their product would “STOP Cravings In Their Tracks,” the defendants touted Sobrenix as “the safe, healthy all-natural option” that would help people “get a handle on their alcohol consumption or quit altogether without turning their lives upside down . . . .”
Consumers also may have seen appearances on local news programs by alternative health “expert” Bryce Wylde and nutritionist Jonny Bowden, who Rejuvica paid for their appearances. As Wylde claimed, according to “a double-blinded, placebo-controlled Harvard trial, so this is legit stuff, two pools, students, college students . . . . One group got water, the other group got this stuff [pointing to Sobrenix bottle]. The group that was active, that got this kudzu ingredient, they drank half as much at free will, half as much.” On another program, Bowden similarly touted the ability of Sobrenix to reduce the desire to drink alcohol and also claimed Sobrenix had been found effective in a Harvard study.
The company then highlighted excerpts from those TV appearances online and in social media. For example, Rejuvica stated on its website, “Sobrenix was recently featured on KATU & CITY TV. Our product was recognized by health experts Jonny Bowden & Bryce Wylde as a product to help reduce and control cravings. We are so excited to share this video with you!”
In addition, a website called AlcoholSupportSupplements.com claimed to review multiple alcohol support supplements and named Sobrenix the “clear winner,” scoring 94% out of 100%.
So what was really going on with the marketing of Sobrenix? According to the complaint, the defendants didn’t have substantiation for their claims that the product reduces or eliminates alcohol cravings, enables people to substantially reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption, helps them regain control of problem drinking, and treats alcohol use disorder. What about the representation that Sobrenix’s effectiveness was supported by clinical evidence? The FTC alleges those statements were false.
The FTC also says the defendants conveyed to consumers that what Wylde and Bowden said about Sobrenix on those TV news programs were independent opinions by impartial experts. In fact, their statements were – with the defendants’ full cooperation – bought and paid for through the company’s public relations firm. According to the complaint, Rejuvica’s Director of Marketing candidly described one of Wylde’s appearances as “basically a Sobrenix commercial.” Once Wylde and Bowden appeared on those programs, Rejuvica’s PR firm suggested the defendants could “amplify” the paid-for placements by treating them “like it was a pleasant surprise to be included in a segment on the power of plants and cravings” – a tactic the defendants implemented by featuring excerpts on their website and in social media.
And the website that claimed to “review” Sobrenix so favorably? The complaint charges that it and similar ones promoting other products sold by the company were simply Rejuvica-written ads deceptively masquerading as the independent opinion of qualified experts.
The proposed order puts injunctive provisions in place to protect consumers from unsubstantiated health-related claims. The order also prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting that claims are clinically or scientifically proven and from misrepresenting the results of scientific tests or studies. In addition, the defendants must disclose when endorsements have been paid for, can’t portray ads as legitimate news coverage, and can’t misrepresent the independence or expertise of any entity or person who reviews a product. Based on the defendants’ financial condition, a portion of the $3.24 million judgment will be suspended. The $650,000 the defendants must pay will be used to provide refunds for consumers.
What can other companies take from the case?
OARFPA makes a wide variety of deceptive practices illegal. Under the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act, it’s “unlawful to engage in an unfair or deceptive act or practice with respect to any substance use disorder treatment service or substance use disorder treatment product.” Therefore, companies that market product or services covered by the statute must comply with OARFPA and the FTC Act.
No news is good news? This isn’t the FTC’s first case challenging the deceptive tactic of dressing up advertising in the misleading guise of independent news programming. It’s conduct that advertisers, ad agencies, PR firms, and others in the promotional arena should avoid.
Bogus “selfie” reviews violate Section 5. We may not be fans of duck-lipped close-ups, but the kind of selfie that really raises our hackles are ads that masquerade as independent reviews by experts or consumers.
The FTC has resources for businesses about the use of endorsements, influencers, and reviews.
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each time i used to read smaller articles which as well clear their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading at this place.
I agree. I found this product not to work. I purchased three bottles from Amazon as I started drinking after 10 years of sobriety. It did not help.