Gut Check: The FTC’s new Weight loss Bullsh*t Detector

Advertising Weight Loss ClaimsCan you really lose two pounds or more a week without dieting or exercise?  The FTC doesn’t think so.  In an admittedly clever pun, it has come up with a list of seven “gut-check” (get it?) statements in weight loss ads that are likely to be false.  The list is intended to alert broadcasters about how to spot false claims in weight loss advertisements before agreeing to run them.  The FTC’s hope is that broadcasters will think twice before airing ads that seem too good to be true.

According to the FTC, the following seven representations simply can’t be true for products such as weight loss pills, dietary supplements, herbal remedies, patches, creams, and wraps.: 

  1. causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise;
  2. causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats;
  3. causes permanent weight loss even after the consumer stops using product;
  4. blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight;
  5. safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks;
  6. causes substantial weight loss for all users; or
  7. causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin.

The FTC also reminded broadcasters that companies that use endorsements in their ads have two choices: (1) either the results in the ad must be typical of what consumers can expect to achieve, or (2) the ad must clearly and conspicuously disclose what the typical results are.  As detailed in a previous post discussing disclaimers, disclosures in footnotes or fleeting text, spoken too quickly to understand, or hidden behind vague hyperlinks aren’t likely to meet the “clear and conspicuous” standard.  In addition, statements such as “results not typical” or “your results will vary” do not undo other statements in an ad.  

Effective disclosures should be:

  • close to the claims they relate to;
  • in an easy-to-read font at least as large as the font the advertiser uses to convey the claim;
  • in a shade that stands out against the background;
  • for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
  • for video or radio ads, spoken at a cadence that’s easy for consumers to follow; and
  • in words consumers will understand

The FTC also came up with a rather fun quiz broadcasters can take to test their BS claim-spotting skills.

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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