Lessons From a Vacuum Cleaner Salesman: Beware Health Related Claims

Oreck Corporation Settles with FTC

On April 7th, the FTC announced a $750,000 settlement with the Oreck Corporation, which boldly claimed that its “Proshield Plus” and “Halo” model vacuum cleaner would “kill virtually all bacteria, viruses, germs, mold, and allergens on carpets and other floor surfaces or in the air of an average-sized household room.”

Oreck touted these products as “Flu Fighters.”  Through TV commercials, infomercials, print ads, and in-store displays, Oreck claimed that the Proshield Plus “helped deliver up to a 99% reduction in airborne particles down to .1 microns, and that the Halo was the “world’s only germ-killing vacuum.”   These magical results were possible thanks to the futuristic components used in the machines, such as “electrostatic precipitators” and “germicidal UV-C light technology.”

As far as the FTC was concerned, they may as well have thrown in a Flux Capacitor.    In its complaint against Oreck, the FTC alleged that the company’s claims were deceptive and had no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support them.   To make matters worse, according to the FTC, the company provided its distributors the “means and instrumentalities” for deceiving consumers, by providing them with similarly deceptive marketing materials.

It is interesting to note that Oreck incorporated disclaimers in its ads, which did little or nothing to mitigate the violation, such as:

Results may vary. Extent of killing on surfaces depends on microorganism exposure time. The Oreck Halo vacuum cleaner is not intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease or medical condition, including asthma or allergies.

What can advertisers learn from this?

Lesson One:  Any health related claims are bound to draw intense regulatory scrutiny. Before your company makes a single health-related claim, it needs to make certain that the claims are backed by “competent and reliable” scientific evidence standard.   In other words, hire a biochemistry lab.

Lesson Two:  Companies are ultimately responsible for the sales collateral and scripts they provide to distributers and affiliates.   It’s all about the stream of commerce, and the FTC always looks to the source.

 



Author: Seth Heyman
Seth D. Heyman is a California attorney with extensive experience in advertising and marketing law, corporate law, contracts, governmental regulations, international business, and Internet law. He has counseled numerous successful companies, both public and private, and was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance, and HR best practices for multiple organizations in many diverse industries, including marketing, telecommunications, energy, and technology development. He offers insight and guidance on federal and state direct mail, TV, radio, telemarketing, and Internet marketing laws, as well as online promotions, Internet privacy, data protection regulations, and similar matters.

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