The FTC has gone to court hundreds of times to stop allegedly misleading weight loss claims and Roca Labs’ “gastric bypass alternative” promises are no exception. But other parts of the complaint – including a count challenging the defendants’ use of consumer gag clauses as an unfair practice – warrant a careful reading.
Blog Posts Tagged with Endorsements, Influencers, and Reviews
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.
You don’t need to go to a water park to see performing seals. You can spot them on websites where they perform the function of conveying information about the purported environmental benefits of products. But do the groups offering those seals – and the companies that display them – have appropriate proof for the claims consumers take from them? If your clients use environmental seals or certifications, you’ll want to see the latest from the FTC staff.
If there’s a material connection between a marketer and an endorser, disclose it. That’s been the FTC standard for decades and it didn't change when marketing moved to social media. The FTC’s proposed settlement with online entertainment network Machinima illustrates missteps that could land advertisers, ad agencies, and PR firms in testimonial turmoil. But what about endorsers, affiliates, influencers, brand ambassadors, etc.?
It’s one thing to create buzz about a product. But fail to disclose a material connection between an endorser and an advertiser and that buzz can wind up stinging you. That’s the message of an FTC lawsuit against Machinima, a top entertainment network on YouTube that specializes in videogame culture and generates more than 3 billion (with a b) views each month.
After the FTC revised its Endorsement Guides in 2009, we followed up with What People are Asking, an informal staff publication to answer questions that were on advertisers’ minds. More than five years have passed – a lifetime in blog years – but the legal principles remain the same. What has changed are the kinds of questions we’re getting.
In her blog, a registered nurse offered candid opinions about a broad range of topics, including parenthood, men with comb-overs, and the challenges of menopausal weight gain. There wasn’t much she could do about the comb-over issue, but she claimed to have found a solution to those extra pounds: a dietary supplement called Amberen.
By now, it shouldn’t be news. Using illegal spam and bogus news sites to convey false claims for diet products is bound to attract FTC attention. Oh, and did we mention the phony representation that the products were endorsed by Oprah and the people on the TV show "The Doctors"?
Does your company participate in the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework? It’s a voluntary international privacy program administered by the Department of Commerce that lets companies transfer data from the EU to the U.S. in compliance with EU law. Of course, data security and privacy are everyday obligations for companies, but are you honoring one particular once-a-year provision? And what about promises you make regarding how you resolve consumer disputes?
Consumers often first go to online review sites when they are thinking about buying a product or hiring a service provider. As a result, most businesses are concerned about managing their online reputation. But a recent FTC proposed settlement offers some lessons for businesses that seek to solicit online reviews with cash or other incentives.
Some people call it the “Oz Effect” – the bump in consumer demand after a product or ingredient is featured on the The Dr. Oz Show. In a just-announced settlement, the FTC says defendants Lindsey Duncan, Pure Health LLC, and Genesis Today, Inc., took advantage of that phenomenon by deceptively touting the purported weight loss benefits of green coffee bean extract.
Silence may be golden, but not for the parents of kids with speech disorders. Illinois-based NourishLife marketed two dietary supplements, Speak and Speak Smooth, advertised as the answer for kids with a broad range of speech disorders, including those associated with autism. But the FTC says the company’s claims were long on talk and short on scientific substantiation.
On the “Evaluate your options carefully before trying this at home” list, how about adding the do-it-yourself removal of moles, skin tags, and warts, including genital warts. That's one message to take from a just-announced FTC settlement, but the case also offers insights for companies that feature consumer endorsements in their ads or use affiliate marketing programs.
Looking for PlayStation tips and tricks? We can’t tell you how ISA Vekta Special Forces Team Alpha can navigate the Akmir Snowdrift in Killzone 3. But for businesses – including ad agencies and PR firms – interested in keeping their practices out of the Pyrrhus Crater, the FTC’s proposed settlements with Sony Computer Entertainment America and ad agency Deutsch LA offer practical guidance.
According to the ads, “It’s a problem as old as gaming itself. Stay home and just keep playing, or get to work on time so your coffee breath boss doesn’t ride you like a rented scooter.” For gamers who face that dilemma, Sony Computer Entertainment America marketed its PlayStation Vita as the solution. But according to a settlement announced by the FTC, Sony didn’t deliver on its promises.
People who aren’t into marketing jargon might not know a “credence claim” from a Creedence Clearwater Revival, but experts tell us it’s a representation about a product that consumers aren’t in a position to evaluate for themselves. One example is what websites say about their privacy practices. Because consumers can’t test the accuracy of those claims, they often rely on third-party seals trusted for their expertise and independence.
We can’t vouch for the accuracy of Shakira’s representation that “Hips Don’t Lie.” But the FTC says anti-cellulite and slimming claims for caffeine-embedded underwear sold by lingerie company Wacoal and catalog retailer Norm Thompson were deceptive. As for Norm Thompson's statement that Dr. Oz endorsed its products, the complaint challenges that as false.
With a product name like “Your Baby Can Read!” – exclamation point in the original – it didn’t take long for consumers to figure out what the marketers were promising. The company’s massive ad campaign featured 14-month-olds mastering vocabulary flashcards, two-year-olds reading books, and an array of charts, graphs, and studies purporting to show that Your Baby Can Read! was scientifically proven to work.
There sure are a lot of seals out there. The British singer. The Navy special ops unit. The aquatic mammal. But the seals that matter to the FTC are certifications that convey representations consumers might not be able to evaluate for themselves. If your company makes Made in the USA claims, you’ll want to “Get Closer.” (And yes, that was a hit by 70s folk rockers, Seals and Crofts.)
There are certain questions we ask ourselves when investigating companies’ health claims. Did they have appropriate substantiation? Did they tell the truth when they said their claims were supported by scientific studies? Did they clearly disclose that product endorsers were getting a piece of the pie?