FTC Cracks Down On Deceptive Marketing of Dietary Supplements

Posted on January 9, 2014

In the modern world, officials take claims made in marketing quite seriously.  Should a product make an unsubstantiated claim that seems dubious, it can get the company behind the item on the radar of the Federal Trade Commission, and enforcement actions could follow if it’s determined that what was said was unproven or patently misleading.

Earlier this week, a series of companies promoting weight loss treatments found this out the hard way when the FTC accused them of making promises in marketing that couldn’t be kept or backed up scientifically.  Now that the FTC has leveled charges against them, those companies will need to refund customers a total of $34 million.  The issue is explored in depth by the New York Times.

Perhaps timed to the dawn of the new year, the newest effort from the FTC was designated as Operation Failed Resolution.  As the country has grown more aware about the obesity epidemic, the diet industry has expanded with various types of products all aimed at keeping waists from expanding.  But with this proliferation of new products, there’s always the worry that some might make it to the market that are unable to back up the claims made in advertisements.

The FTC has grown concerned about this trend, and the effort is but the latest in a long string of crackdowns that similarly charged the makers of products who could be construed as misleading the very public they were peddling the items to.  Operation Waistline was put into action back in 1997, and ten years ago, Operation Big Fat Lie also saw various companies in the sights of the FTC.

In the most recent instance, the FTC focused on companies that promise weight loss results that can’t possibly be backed up by scientific research.  The FTC wants to make sure that any such claims in the future only come as the result of controlled studies that use placebos and a control group to establish a given finding.

The FTC wants the media to stop giving free rein to such companies just because they purchased ad space.  They have been instructing such outlets as to how to spot claims that can’t be backed up, and once identified, the media in question can choose to deny the company’s request to advertise.

This current action affects HCG Diet Direct, L’Occitane, LeanSpa, and Sensa.  Among the practices that the FTC has looked down on are using media appearances as a substitute for scientific research, letting coverage of a product essentially do the talking to consumers.  Promotional sites disguised as news coverage have been erected to serve as a platform to bring in customers, and paid endorsements were not disclosed as such, two additional practices that are not acceptable.

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