Analysis of Proposed Consent Order
The Federal Trade Commission has accepted, subject to final approval, an agreement for entry of a consent order from Dura Lube Corporation, Inc., American Direct Marketing, Inc., Howe Laboratories, Inc., Crescent Marketing, Inc. (d/b/a Crescent Manufacturing, Inc.), National Communications Corporation, The Media Group, Inc., and Herman S. Howard and Scott Howard, the principals who control these corporations (referred to collectively as "Respondents"). The agreement would settle a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission that Respondents engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for thirty (30) days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After thirty (30) days, the Commission will again review the agreement and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make final the agreement's proposed order.
This matter concerns advertising representations made about Super Dura Lube Engine Treatment and Advanced Dura Lube Engine Treatment (referred to collectively as "Dura Lube"), engine oil additives. The administrative complaint alleged that Respondents violated the FTC Act by disseminating ads that made unsubstantiated performance claims about Dura Lube. The Complaint alleged that Respondents represented that, compared to motor oil alone or oil treated with any other product, Dura Lube: (1) reduces engine wear; (2) reduces engine wear by more than 50%; (3) prolongs engine life; (4) reduces emissions; (5) reduces the risk of serious engine damage when oil pressure is lost; (6) improves gas mileage; and (7) improves gas mileage by up to 35%. The Complaint alleged that one treatment continues to protect engines for up to 50,000 miles. The Complaint alleged that Respondents represented that they had a reasonable basis for making these claims, but in fact did not possess competent evidence supporting them.
The Complaint also challenged, as false, claims that tests prove that, compared to motor oil alone, Dura Lube: (1) reduces engine wear; (2) prolongs engine life; (3) reduces emissions; (4) reduces the risk of serious engine damage when oil pressure is lost; (5) improves gas mileage; and (6) improves gas mileage by up to 35%. The Complaint also challenged as false claims that tests prove that one treatment continues to protect engines for up to 50,000 miles. Additionally, the Complaint challenged, as false, claims that Dura Lube: (a) has been tested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and (b) contains no chlorinated compound.
The Complaint alleged that Respondents represented that product demonstrations in their advertising proved, demonstrated, or confirmed that, (a) compared to motor oil alone, Dura Lube reduces the risk of serious engine damage when oil pressures is lost, and (b) without Dura Lube, motor oil fails to protect automobile engines under hot running conditions, when in fact the demonstrations do not prove, demonstrate, or confirm these product attributes. Finally, the Complaint alleged that Respondents represented that former astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad had endorsed the product based on a valid exercise of his expertise in the evaluation of automobile engine lubricants, when in fact Mr. Conrad did not have expertise in the evaluation and testing of automobile engine lubrication.
The Complaint gave notice that the Commission had reason to believe that a proceeding under Section 19 of the FTC Act for consumer redress ultimately might be appropriate, depending upon the adjudicative record and other relevant factors.
The proposed consent order contains provisions designed to prevent Respondents from engaging in acts and practices similar to those alleged in the complaint in the future. Part I of the proposed consent order prohibits Respondents from falsely claiming that Dura Lube contains no chlorinated compound or that it has been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. It also prohibits them from claiming that Dura Lube meets the requirements or standards of any governmental or standard setting organization unless they possess competent and reliable evidence, which when appropriate must be competent and reliable scientific evidence, substantiating the claim.
Part II of the proposed consent order prohibits Respondents from making unsubstantiated representations regarding the performance, benefits, efficacy, attributes or use of any product for use in an automobile, or from misrepresenting the results of any study. It specifically prohibits unsubstantiated claims that, compared to motor oil alone or oil treated with any other product, the product reduces engine wear or reduces it by any percentage, dollar or other figure; prolongs engine life; reduces emissions; reduces the risk of serious engine damage when oil pressure is lost; or improves gas mileage or improves it by any percentage, miles per gallon, dollar or other figure. It also prohibits unsubstantiated claims that one treatment reduces engine wear for 50,000 or any other number of miles. The evidence required to substantiate such claims includes competent and reliable evidence, which when appropriate must be competent and reliable scientific evidence.
Part III of the proposed consent order prohibits Respondents from using misleading demonstrations in the sale of any product.
Part IV of the proposed consent order prohibits Respondents from representing that any endorser of any product for use in a motor vehicle is an expert unless the endorser possesses the expertise he or she is represented to have and the endorsement is adequately supported by evidence that would be accepted by experts in the area.
Part X of the proposed consent order requires Respondents to pay $2 million in consumer redress. The Federal Trade Commission would administer and distribute the redress as the Commission, in its sole discretion, deemed appropriate. Respondents would be required to provide the Commission with the identities of consumers known to have purchased Dura Lube between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1999. Consumers electing to accept the redress would release any claims against Respondents.
The remainder of the proposed consent order also contains provisions regarding distribution of the order, replacement of product packaging and labeling with compliant packaging and labeling, record-keeping, notification of changes in corporate status, termination of the order, and the filing of a compliance report.
The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order, and it is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreement and the proposed order or to modify their terms in any way.