False advertising is a serious criminal offence that often times results in the destruction of those responsible; not destruction such as obliteration into tiny fragments, more so their undoing, but that doesn’t seem to quite capture the gravity of its effects. This is especially true in the case of weight loss products; weight loss in of itself can be difficult to achieve and a sensitive issue for many Americans. Now imagine that frustration coupled with the fact that you’ve now bought a product that doesn’t do what it said it would when you bought it. Legally False Advertising is best defined as
“Any advertising or promotion that misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities or geographic origin of goods, services or commercial activities” (Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1125(a)).
Now False Advertising is illegal for obvious reasons, what may not be so obvious however is where the line is drawn. Is it possible that in order to avoid legality issues companies will create vaguer more defensible advertisements.
Many commercials believe in the use of small print to provide information to prospects and consumers. Usually, the information presented in the small print is the facts that could ruin potential relationships between businesses and customers. The founder and editor of ConsumerWorld.org says that “Companies like to put the happiest face on their claims, but they know if they really told the truth in the big print people would be less interested in the offer.” SENSA, a weight loss supplement company, uses what some call the “mouse-print” in the commercial below.
This commercial not only uses small print to provide the important, need-to-know, facts about their product, but they also make those facts disappear after a second of being seen. SENSA includes minimal health risks in the fine print, and also warns its commercial viewers that the FDA has not evaluated the statements made. Is it ethical to present misleading information, false information, or important information in small print for consumers to miss before purchasing a product? The Federal Trade Commission monitors false advertisements, but small print is still in effect in many commercial and print ads!
Here we see that the FTC has recently charged several weight-loss companies with deceptive advertising. Finally, companies facing consequences for their false claims or deceptive handling fees. It turns out that SENSA’s claim for losing 30 pounds in 6 months with no exercise whatsoever had no scientific backing. Later on down the page we see that HCG Diet Direct was advertising products that were “unproven to help with weight loss and potentially dangerous even when taken as directed,” according to acting director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, yet HCG claims that the drops are approved by the FDA. This of course was not the truth.
These are products that hundreds of thousands of people are putting in their bodies every day. It’s unreal to think about. What is very real however, is the fines these companies are facing. The two mentioned above rack up to almost $30 million alone. Is this a just punishment, or is it to much? Perhaps it isn’t harsh enough?
-Austin Johnson, Jade Lester, Tyler Thomas