FTC To Bar Atypical Results Advertising
The Federal Trade Commission plans to get tougher on advertisers’ use of testimonials and endorsements by requiring more transparency and ending the practice of using disclaimers like “individual results may vary” and “results not typical.”
Disclaimers like these are standard practice in the advertising industry, especially in the diet and exercise apparatus markets. The most famous example is Subway’s use of Jared Fogle, who lost 245 pounds eating sub sandwiches and exercising. The commercials’ fine print indicated Fogle’s weight loss wasn’t typical. Further investigation found that a special medical condition aided Fogle’s weight loss.
The FTC would instead require advertisers to display typical results instead of hyping up one spectacular atypical result. In addition, advertisers would also have to disclose details of endorsers. It would have to be disclosed that the “doctor” in a pharmaceutical ad is actually an actor. Celebrities would have to disclose any commercial ties to a product as well.
The first update to these guidelines since 1980, the new rules would apply to all forms of advertising, including online advertising.
Advertisers have already lodged their complaints, feeling the rules are too restrictive. Jonathan Gelfand, general counsel for Product Partners LLC, a company that sells fitness products and nutritional supplements told the Chicago Tribune that acknowledging results may vary is as true as an advertiser can make it.
“If we can’t show a picture and give results, what are we going to do? Someone who can’t fit in an airline seat is not going to pick up the phone for a 10-pound weight change."
The FTC recently slapped home shopping network QVC with a $7.5 million fine for deceptive claims of a similar stripe, indicating that publishers will not be immune, either. The FTC ruled QVC violated a 2000 order barring it from making deceptive and unsubstantiated claims about three dietary supplements and a body lotion: For Women Only weight-loss pills, Lite Bites weight-loss food bars and shakes, Bee-Alive Royal Jelly energy supplements, and Lipofactor Cellulite Target lotion.
“QVC aired ads that weren’t true and violated an FTC order,” said Eileen Harrington, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Simply put, we aren’t going to let QVC get away with this. The company is responsible for the product claims made on its programs, and we expect that going forward, QVC will do a better job for its audience and make sure that its programs are truthful and not deceptive.”