Georgetown Publishing House Limited Partnership, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based publishing firm, and its president have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they used deceptive advertising tactics to promote the sale of a book titled, The American Speaker: Your Guide to Successful Speaking. The FTC alleged that the respondents misled consumers by sending them what appeared to be an independent book review torn from a magazine. Attached to the "review" was a self-adhesive yellow note with the handwritten personalized message:
"[Recipient's name], Try this. It works! J." suggesting that the clipping had been sent by an acquaintance. In fact, the FTC alleged, the clipping was not an independent review from a magazine, but an ad prepared and sent by the respondents to promote their book. The proposed settlement would prohibit the respondents from misrepresenting that an ad is an independent review or article, or that it is not a paid advertisement.
"This case highlights the growing trend of marketers to disguise their advertising as something other than a commercial pitch," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "It is a well-established principle that advertising may not deceptively mimic the format of editorial or news content, and that endorsements represented as being independent must truly be so. Consumers rely on independent reviews and endorsements in making purchasing decisions, and their decisions may be distorted if the information they are receiving is, unbeknownst to them, an advertiser's message."
The FTC's complaint detailing the allegations names Georgetown Publishing House Limited Partnership, Inc., its general partner, Georgetown Publishing House, Inc., and its president, Daniel Levinas.
The respondents mailed to millions of consumers what appeared to be an article giving an independent review of the book, The American Speaker. The article, titled "Applause, Applause," looked like a clipping, complete with a ragged margin as if torn from a magazine, a byline, and a page number and month and year at the bottom of the page.
The complaint alleges that through these means, the res- pondents represented that "Applause, Applause" was a book review written by and containing the independent opinions of an indepen- dent journalist or reviewer, and that it had been disseminated in a magazine or other independent publication. In fact, according to the complaint, the clipping was an advertisement written and sent by the respondents for the purpose of selling the book, The American Speaker.
The proposed consent agreement to settle these charges, announced today for public comment, would prohibit the respondents from misrepresenting that an advertisement is an independent review or article, or that it is not a paid advertisement. In addition, the order would prohibit the respondents from misrepresenting that a product has been independently reviewed or evaluated.
The proposed settlement also contains reporting provisions designed to assist the FTC in monitoring the respondents' compliance.
The Commission vote to approve the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 5-0. It will be published in the Federal Register shortly and will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $10,000.
Copies of the complaint, proposed consent agreement, and an analysis of the agreement to assist the public in commenting, are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202- 326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. 952 3388)