FTC considers rule changes on advert testimonials.

We’ve all seen ads for various weight loss pills and diet plans that start off by showing someone who looks like Jabba the Hutt’s sibling as the before picture followed by a live model who has the sort of figure that’s only gained after months on a proper diet with regular workouts under the supervision of a highly paid physical trainer.  Often they’ll make outlandish claims such as: “Using MegaSuperDietPillExtreme I lost a whopping 4,000 pounds in JUST THREE WEEKS eating EVERYTHING IN SIGHT!” The implication being that all you need to do to look as fabulous as the model is swallow some overpriced pills. All the while at the bottom of the TV screen/magazine ad is a little bit of tiny white text on a white background that reads “Results not typical.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the companies had to show you what a “typical result” actually is in addition to, if not in place of, the wildly successful result that isn’t typical? I think it would be and apparently the FTC is considering such a rule change:

Updated guidelines on ad endorsements and testimonials under final review by the Federal Trade Commission—and widely expected to be adopted—would end marketers’ ability to talk up the extreme benefits of products while carrying disclaimers like “results not typical” or “individual results may vary.”

Instead, companies would be allowed to tout extreme results only if they also spelled out typical outcomes.

“For a good part of the last decade, we have noticed a problem, particularly with consumer testimonials,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “The use of consumer testimonials had become almost a safe harbor for companies as long as they threw in some sort of disclaimer about results not being typical.”

This is true. That little bit of text is their YOU CAN’T SUE US IF YOU TRY THIS PRODUCT AND ARE STILL A GROSSLY HUGE LARD ASS pass. After all they never claimed YOU’D do as well on their diet pill, they only heavily suggested that you might do as well.

Needless to say this rule change is causing some amount of… concern… among the makers of useless products that make outrageous claims:

“There would never be another Jared,” said Julie Coons, president and chief executive of the marketing trade group Electronic Retailing Association, referring to Jared Fogle, who became Subway’s spokesman after losing 245 pounds eating the chain’s sandwiches and exercising. “We’re all going to have to regroup” if the proposals stand.

[…] The revisions have drawn sharp criticism from product manufacturers, advertising agencies and trade groups who say it is the “aspirational” theme of their ads that motivates consumers to purchase their goods. Show less than the ultimate achievement, they say, and consumers are less likely to buy.

SEB Translation: “We’re playing to people’s fantasies of a quick fix in a magic pill/diet plan/book. If we show them the typical reality then they won’t buy our craptastic products!”

Boo fucking hoo. My blood pressure goes through the roof when some of these ads come on that are so over the top in the claims being made. Not all of them are as bad as the fictional example I made up earlier, but more than enough are and some are even more ridiculous. But according to the marketeers it’s just too hard to come up with what a typical result would be:

What’s more, they say, it’s impossible to determine typical results for many personal-care products because of unique physiological characteristics among humans and the varying levels of effort put into any endeavor.

“A lightbulb, I can give you a typical result,” said Jonathan Gelfand, general counsel for Product Partners LLC, which sells fitness programs, gear and nutritional supplements under the “Beach Body” brand.

Bullshit. You get a bunch of people with similar conditions together and you give them your product and have them use it for awhile. Then you take the results and see where the majority of people ended up and that’s your typical result.

“Showing what people start and end with and saying very prominently, ‘Results may vary,’ that is as true as you can make it,” Gelfand said. “If we can’t show a picture and give results, what are we going to do?”

Part of the problem is that “results may vary” is almost never said/displayed/presented in any prominent fashion. It’s usually a hard to read bit of fine print that shows up for all of 10 seconds in a TV commercial. That’s just plain dishonest.

He added, “Someone who can’t fit in an airline seat is not going to pick up the phone for a 10-pound weight change.”

No shit, Sherlock. Of course if your product typically only produces a difference of 10-pounds in weight change (and I’ll note you didn’t mention if that was loss or gain) then it’s probably not of any real use to too many people in the first fucking place, but you still want to have that chance to try and convince them it might be. Greedy fucking bastards.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m overweight and lazy myself and would love for there to be a miracle pill that would make me as fit and ripped as a 27 year-old exercise enthusiast, but selling me something I’d love to have when you can’t really provide it is quite simply fraud. I don’t care how many times you tell me the results aren’t typical when everything else in your ad screams that they are. It’d be nice to get a little truth in the advertising for a change.

7 thoughts on “FTC considers rule changes on advert testimonials.

  1. The funny thing is, no matter what the rules are it’s just going to lead to more of the same presented more cleverly. Businesses will always tend to exploit the edges of the rules regulating their behavior, because if they didn’t exploit some flaw no one would ever think to regulate the thing in the first place. Business is inherently immoral. If you want ethical behavior in business then you need to insist upon it from your government. You still won’t get it, but you might eventually get a reasonable facsimile by putting criminal penalties for sucking in place.

  2. My blood pressure goes through the rough when some of these ads come on that are so over the top in the claims being made.

    You might want a doctor to look at that.

    Most “diet” pills simply make you lose water, which is why they all work until about the 10lb mark.

  3. There’s one advert over on this side of the pond that always has me ranting at the TV. It’s for a herbal ‘diet aid’ and says “garlic has traditionally been used to aid in weight loss”.

    Emphasis, theirs and mine, on the word traditionally… as if that somehow demonstrates efficacy, FFS.

  4. Penn and Teller had a great BS episode on this topic. Basically they found most of the “models” used were essentially lies. They would find a stock skinny model that was pregnant and get photos at the right time. Then use stock photos after the pregnancy. Of course giving them the pill after the birth on contract. Thing is, the pill can be worthless for these models as they would lose the weight anyway, being they were already in great shape and have amazing genetics.

    I don’t want to spoil the episode for anyone, but I highly recommend.

    Season 1 Episode 11

  5. Why do these scammers think they have a right to sell people useless crap?

    I for one think they should hold TV stations accountable for airing these commercials. They are making a profit off of defrauding people just as much as the people who make the commercials and crappy products.

    I think the world would be a better place forcing people to sell honest products.

    I’m always amused at these exercise products, being demonstrated by people who obviously spend hours in the gym everyday, and acting like they got that way by using the product. Right.

    Me, I’ve lost about 25 lbs. this year through diet and exercising my ass off every day. I’m still fat, and it’s going to take me a year of sticking to this routine to get skinny. It took me decades to get to where I’m at without trying, expecting things to happen any quicker than a year is just plain stupid.

  6. That this is even being considered is a great sign. These people have been getting away with fraud for too long.

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