FTC cracks down on wellness advertising


A decisive crackdown on two high-profile companies promoting wellness products with false advertising has made for a busy month at the Federal Trade Commission. Perhaps the most notorious of these crackdowns is linked with Sketchers Shape-ups, the “weight-loss” shoe with a heavy promise.

“Sketchers’ unfounded claims went beyond stronger and more toned muscles. “The company even made claims about weight loss and cardiovascular health,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a news conference. “The FTC’s message, for Sketchers and other national advertisers, is to shape up your substantiation or tone down your claims.”

The FTC levied punishment for false advertising against Sketchers that will ultimately cost the company $40 million in buyer reimbursements.  The FTC insists that the studies used to provide the material for the misleading advertisements were deeply flawed on a number of levels, including a possible conflict of interest. One of its ads included a favorable testimonial from an “independent chiropractor” in California, who happened to be married to a Sketchers executive.

“I thought it was crazy that people thought a shoe would change their fitness level,” said Rob Versaw, a BYU student and avid runner who was asked to test the shoe by a running store in his hometown.

Sketchers isn’t the only company recently in hot water for misleading advertising. The FTC issued a cease-and-desist order against POM Wonderful the first week of May in an effort to halt misleading advertising about their pomegranate juice. The ruling stated that POM lacked appropriate evidence to support its claims that the juice aids in treating, preventing or reducing heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

POM’s defiant reaction to the ruling included running bold advertisements in the New York Times that challenge FTC statements and urge consumers to decide for themselves who is right. POM even went as far as to selectively use quotes from the judge who imposed the ruling to make it look like he supported their original claims.

Both cases have urged many consumers to rethink how they perceive and act on wellness advertising. One BYU student feels that the FTC took advantage of an opportune moment to remind companies that they can’t get away with just anything.

“Advertising has always kind of pushed the envelope a little bit for different products, but I feel like now everyone thinks they can get away with so much more because people believe it,”said Brandalyn Youd, a BYU student studying graphic design. “More and more we find out that they are not always what they say they are.”

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