Testimonials are no defense against bogus health claims in advertising
saying “I did nothing wrong” and being guilty as hell?
I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I may have just helped a client dodge a million-dollar bullet.
Okay, I lied. I totally mean to brag.
My client wanted me to advertise a health-related claim about his product. I researched and researched and could find no science backing the claim. I had braced myself for a battle, but instead the client said, “If we can’t prove it, let’s not put it in the ad,” thus forever securing his place on my Favorite Clients list.
But not before first pointing out that oodles of his customers had gone on the record verifying the health claim. Wasn’t that good enough?
MyPillow CEO Michael Lindell clings to his pillow even though it doesn’t treat cerebral palsy, post traumatic stress disorder, and menopause after all.
Since testimonials can be compelling, advertisers would do well to verify them before parading them. Hopefully I needn’t explain why that’s especially important where health claims are concerned. Yet bogus health claims in advertising abound. Among other reasons, they persist because they’re too numerous for regulatory and watchdog groups to keep up on; because profits can substantially outweigh fines; and, sometimes, because politicians back them. When it comes to the supplements industry, the ringleader of said politicians is none other than Orrin Hatch, allegedly representing my home state of Utah. Contributions to his campaigns from the supplements industry aside, I don’t accuse him of being corrupt, but of being honestly duped.
But now and then the law nails a marketer for bogus health claims. Last week, prosecutors in nine California counties slapped a $1,000,000.00 deceptive advertising fine on MyPillow. According to an NBC News article:
The consumer watchdog group truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org) sounded the alarm about MyPillow back in February and provided its findings to prosecutors in California.
TINA.org's investigation concluded that the company made unsubstantiated claims that its pillow could treat or cure a variety of sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.
Customer testimonials posted on the website, and later taken down, raved about the pillow's ability to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, migraines, acid reflux, menopause, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions, the TINA.org report noted.
Not surprisingly, MyPillow CEO Michael Lindell maintains that his company did “nothing wrong.” (Is it just me or has anyone else observed a correlation between saying “I did nothing wrong” and being guilty as hell?) His defense is that his company posted real testimonials from real customers. Oh, and their advertising included the disclaimer, “Claims for MyPillow are based on medical opinion and user experience and not on actual clinical studies. My Pillow is not a medical device and is not intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate or cure any disease.” Never mind that the testimonials sure seemed to say the pillow did exactly that. Or that the testimonials were featured in large type while the disclaimer appeared in minuscule type way the heck down at the bottom of the page.
Lindell says he has changed his advertising because fighting the decision isn’t worth the time and trouble. Meanwhile, he has three class-action suits to look forward to.