Baseball lore has it that Hall of Famer Ted Williams’ eyesight was so acute he could see the seams on a fastball. Developers of an app called Ultimeyes claimed that using their product “gives baseball players superhuman vision.” For some of us though, a daily task like reading a menu in a dimly lit restaurant is a swing and a miss. No problem, said the company. “25 minutes on this app will improve your vision by 31%” – results supposedly verified by a published university study. But a three-count FTC complaint alleges that the advertisers struck out in the substantiation department. In addition, check out what they didn’t tell consumers about an endorser prominently featured in their ads.
California-based Carrot Neurotechnology pitched Ultimeyes with the promise that it was “scientifically shown to improve vision.” Consumers shelled out between $5.99 and $9.99 to download the app from Carrot’s site or buy it at popular app stores. In addition to boosting athletic performance, the app was advertised to enhance night vision and correct presbyopia – the medical term for aging eyes that can’t read things up close. Another claim the FTC alleges was off-base: Carrot said that users would be able to read two lines further down the Snellen chart, the diagnostic tool that hangs on the wall of every eye doctor’s office. They even claimed that Ultimeyes improved some test subjects’ vision not just to 20/20, but to 20/7.5.
But according to the complaint, Carrot didn’t have proof to back up those claims. The FTC says the representation that Ultimeyes was supported by scientific testing was a balk, too. And speaking of science, Carrot’s ads claimed that research conducted by Aaron Seitz – identified in some marketing materials as “Associate Professor, Psychology” – established that Ultimeyes improves vision. In fact, Seitz is Carrot’s co-owner and Chief Scientist, material connections the FTC says should have been disclosed.
The proposed settlement, which names the company, CEO Adam Goldberg, and Seitz, requires them to back up a host of future claims with competent and scientific evidence and imposes $150,000 in disgorgement. You can file a public comment online by October 19, 2015.
What’s the scouting report for other companies?
- The rulebook remains the same. Established truth-in-advertising principles apply across the board, including to apps.
- Dramatic health claims are likely to catch the umpire’s eye. Fans often complain about umps’ eyesight, but a claim to improve vision by 31% will attract everyone’s attention, including the FTC’s. Before making health-related representations, advertisers must have in hand competent and reliable scientific evidence appropriate for the nature of the claim. If you refer to scientific research or studies, that’s a whole new ballgame. You need at least the level of proof you say you have.
- Acknowledge your teammates. Under the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, if there’s a connection between an advertiser and an endorser that consumers wouldn’t expect and it would affect how they evaluate the endorsement, disclose it. The FTC called foul on Ultimeyes’ marketing materials for prominently touting Aaron Seitz’s research, but failing to adequately disclose his affiliation with the company.