FTC considers rule changes on advert testimonials.

We’ve all seen ads for various weight loss pills and diet plans that start off by showing someone who looks like Jabba the Hutt’s sibling as the before picture followed by a live model who has the sort of figure that’s only gained after months on a proper diet with regular workouts under the supervision of a highly paid physical trainer.  Often they’ll make outlandish claims such as: “Using MegaSuperDietPillExtreme I lost a whopping 4,000 pounds in JUST THREE WEEKS eating EVERYTHING IN SIGHT!” The implication being that all you need to do to look as fabulous as the model is swallow some overpriced pills. All the while at the bottom of the TV screen/magazine ad is a little bit of tiny white text on a white background that reads “Results not typical.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the companies had to show you what a “typical result” actually is in addition to, if not in place of, the wildly successful result that isn’t typical? I think it would be and apparently the FTC is considering such a rule change:

Updated guidelines on ad endorsements and testimonials under final review by the Federal Trade Commission—and widely expected to be adopted—would end marketers’ ability to talk up the extreme benefits of products while carrying disclaimers like “results not typical” or “individual results may vary.”

Instead, companies would be allowed to tout extreme results only if they also spelled out typical outcomes.

“For a good part of the last decade, we have noticed a problem, particularly with consumer testimonials,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “The use of consumer testimonials had become almost a safe harbor for companies as long as they threw in some sort of disclaimer about results not being typical.”

This is true. That little bit of text is their YOU CAN’T SUE US IF YOU TRY THIS PRODUCT AND ARE STILL A GROSSLY HUGE LARD ASS pass. After all they never claimed YOU’D do as well on their diet pill, they only heavily suggested that you might do as well.

Needless to say this rule change is causing some amount of… concern… among the makers of useless products that make outrageous claims:

“There would never be another Jared,” said Julie Coons, president and chief executive of the marketing trade group Electronic Retailing Association, referring to Jared Fogle, who became Subway’s spokesman after losing 245 pounds eating the chain’s sandwiches and exercising. “We’re all going to have to regroup” if the proposals stand.

[…] The revisions have drawn sharp criticism from product manufacturers, advertising agencies and trade groups who say it is the “aspirational” theme of their ads that motivates consumers to purchase their goods. Show less than the ultimate achievement, they say, and consumers are less likely to buy.

SEB Translation: “We’re playing to people’s fantasies of a quick fix in a magic pill/diet plan/book. If we show them the typical reality then they won’t buy our craptastic products!”

Boo fucking hoo. My blood pressure goes through the roof when some of these ads come on that are so over the top in the claims being made. Not all of them are as bad as the fictional example I made up earlier, but more than enough are and some are even more ridiculous. But according to the marketeers it’s just too hard to come up with what a typical result would be:

What’s more, they say, it’s impossible to determine typical results for many personal-care products because of unique physiological characteristics among humans and the varying levels of effort put into any endeavor.

“A lightbulb, I can give you a typical result,” said Jonathan Gelfand, general counsel for Product Partners LLC, which sells fitness programs, gear and nutritional supplements under the “Beach Body” brand.

Bullshit. You get a bunch of people with similar conditions together and you give them your product and have them use it for awhile. Then you take the results and see where the majority of people ended up and that’s your typical result.

“Showing what people start and end with and saying very prominently, ‘Results may vary,’ that is as true as you can make it,” Gelfand said. “If we can’t show a picture and give results, what are we going to do?”

Part of the problem is that “results may vary” is almost never said/displayed/presented in any prominent fashion. It’s usually a hard to read bit of fine print that shows up for all of 10 seconds in a TV commercial. That’s just plain dishonest.

He added, “Someone who can’t fit in an airline seat is not going to pick up the phone for a 10-pound weight change.”

No shit, Sherlock. Of course if your product typically only produces a difference of 10-pounds in weight change (and I’ll note you didn’t mention if that was loss or gain) then it’s probably not of any real use to too many people in the first fucking place, but you still want to have that chance to try and convince them it might be. Greedy fucking bastards.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m overweight and lazy myself and would love for there to be a miracle pill that would make me as fit and ripped as a 27 year-old exercise enthusiast, but selling me something I’d love to have when you can’t really provide it is quite simply fraud. I don’t care how many times you tell me the results aren’t typical when everything else in your ad screams that they are. It’d be nice to get a little truth in the advertising for a change.

The Contempt of Court judgment Kevin Trudeau Doesn’t Want You to Know About!

Who is Kevin Trudeau? He’s the “alternative medicine” slimeball who sells books full of miracle cures that the Powers That Be supposedly hope you’ll never find out about. With titles like Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About and The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About this asshole has made millions off the gullibility of desperate people with cancer and other serious illnesses. The FTC finally broke down and successfully sued his ass back in 1998 for making false and misleading claims in his infomercials getting him barred from making such claims again and a $500,000 fine. In 2003 the FTC charged him with violating the 1998 order by making claims that a product called “Coral Calcium Supreme” would cure cancer and got an injunction barring him from making said claims, which he promptly ignored resulting in a contempt of court finding which fined him another $2 million and banned him from appearing in infomercials. If you’ve spent any recent time flipping channels in the wee hours of the morning, however, then you’re probably aware that he ignored that ruling as well. 

Which brings us to his latest run-in with the courts:

A federal judge has ordered infomercial marketer Kevin Trudeau to pay more than $37 million for violating a 2004 stipulated order by misrepresenting the content of his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

In August 2008, Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois had ordered Trudeau to pay more than $5 million and banned him, for three years, from producing or publishing infomercials for products in which he has an interest. The ruling confirmed an earlier contempt finding, the second such finding against Trudeau in the past four years.

Urged by both the FTC and Trudeau to reconsider aspects of its August order, on November 4 Judge Gettleman amended the judgment to $37,616,161, the amount consumers paid in response to the deceptive infomercials. The judge also revised the three-year ban to prohibit Trudeau from “disseminating or assisting others in disseminating” any infomercial for any informational publication in which he has an interest. On December 11, the court denied Trudeau’s request to reconsider or stay this ruling.

You’d think by now Trudeau would have gotten the message and taken the money he’s already earned and run, but he’s apparently not that smart. Probably doesn’t help that he has past convictions for larceny and credit card fraud, but it does show he has enough brains to move from outright theft to a form of fraud that apparently carries much less risk of going to actual prison (he spent 2 years in prison for the credit card fraud).

Think this one will slow him down any? I doubt it. The folks who put out the craptastic “Airborne” just modified their packaging to make any beneficial claims as vague as possible after their settlement with the government and the CEO of the company that produced the equally useless “Enzyte” dick embigginer product went to prison and yet their infomercials are still on the air with the company doing better than ever. In fact at the time that the CEO of Berkeley – parent company to Enzyte – was put on trial the company had regular customers in the tens of thousands who apparently thought the pill was doing something for them.

The simple fact of the matter is that you can sell just about anything as a cure for, well, just about anything so long as you make your claims as vague as possible while doing so. The CEO of Enzyte didn’t go to prison because his product doesn’t work, a fact he pretty much admitted to in court, but because the company was automatically signing people up for ongoing purchases under the guise of a “free trial” and then refusing to cancel their orders or fulfill the promised money back guarantee. Now that he’s out of the way the company has turned all credit card processing over to an outside company and is honoring any money back refunds it receives and has had no further problems with the government since. The product still doesn’t do a damned thing, but there are enough people out there who think it does that they’re making plenty of money off of it.

Given all of that, and the fact that Trudeau doesn’t seem to give a shit what the courts tell him to do, I suspect we’ll be seeing him again very soon indeed.