A chocolate cake that causes weight loss? A recliner that tones your abs while you watch TV? They’re in our pantheon of products we’d buy in a second. Here’s something to add to that list: a videogame scientifically proven to help kids focus, enhance memory, boost attention, and improve behavior and school performance. That’s what Focus Education promised in infomercials and other ads for its ifocus System Jungle Rangers videogame. But according to the FTC, the product – which set parents back $215 – didn’t deliver.
Houston-based Focus Education said its game would give kids “the ability to focus, complete school work, homework and to stay on task.” Supposedly based on the “cutting edge science” of “integrated neuro technology,” Jungle Rangers was touted as “scientifically engineered to strengthen important neuron connections.” Was it just a temporary phenomenon? Not according to the company: “Research shows that once neuro pathways have been opened or strengthened they do not recede unless there is either a disease or until the onset of issues later with aging.” And it didn’t claim to be just for star students. Ads for the product featured educators, a child psychiatrist, and parents kvelling about aced tests, easier homework, improved grades, and higher reading groups – even for kids with ADHD.
Impressive claims, to be sure. But what happened when it was time for Show and Tell with the FTC? According to the administrative complaint – which also names corporate officers Michael Apstein and John Able – the company couldn’t back up the big talk with solid science.
The proposed settlement in the case requires the company to support future claims related to focus, memory, attention, behavior, or school performance with competent and reliable scientific evidence. In this context, that means “human clinical testing of such product that is sufficient in quality and quantity, based on standards generally accepted by experts in the relevant field, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that the representation is true.” But that’s not all. The testing has to be randomized, double-blind, and adequately controlled – plus it has to be conducted by qualified researchers.
You can comment online about the proposed settlement by February 20, 2015.
Business executives who have been paying attention have probably spotted a pattern. More companies seem to be marketing products with bold promises of improved cognition. Some target parents interested in giving toddlers the best start. Others focus on school performance. Still others aim at the opposite end of the spectrum: older adults concerned about the implications of lost keys or fading memory.
The FTC’s message is clear: Companies need sound science to support cognition claims. For savvy marketers, that should be a no-brainer.