In a decision recommending that Neuracel LLC work to remove challenged claims on a website owned and operated by a prior owner, the National Advertising Division provided a reminder to advertisers that they are potentially responsible for claims found on third-party sites.
Claims for the Neuracel dietary supplement reviewed by the self-regulatory body included "The Complete Natural Everyday Nerve Pain Miracle," "Surgery Is Not An Option," and "This means you are getting a completely natural product in a plant-based capsule that is suitable for vegans." Testimonials for the dietary supplement touted, "James is an RN who ordered Neuracel for his partner Dustin. Since taking Neuracel, Dustin has been 100% pain-free. His tingling, numbness and pain are COMPLETELY GONE!"
When contacted by the NAD about the claims, the advertiser responded that they were made by the prior owner of Neuracel.com and not reviewed by counsel for the current owner of the company. As a fallback position, Neuracel argued that the challenged claims were supported by a 2014 study on mice of a compound found in the supplement.
The NAD was not persuaded. While it "appreciates" that the challenged claims appeared on a website owned and operated by a prior owner, "NAD has held that advertisers apprised of inaccurate or unsupported claims being made about their products that appear in third-party advertising should take steps to ensure that such claims are promptly discontinued," according to the decision.
Neuracel's website "prominently features" the challenged claims and testimonials, which "reasonably convey the message that Neuracel eliminates nerve pain (including diabetic neuropathy) and that consumers who are taking prescription medication to relieve nerve pain can instead take Neuracel to achieve better results," the NAD wrote. "These are powerful and potentially dangerous claims as they encourage consumers to forego taking prescription pain medication to treat a serious medication condition in favor of Neuracel."
The advertiser lacked competent and reliable scientific evidence to back up its claims, the NAD said, as a single animal study was insufficient to support claims relating to the performance of a product, or its ingredients, in humans.
As for the testimonials, Neuracel offered to add a disclaimer to its website that its statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and that "Neither the website nor our product is intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Before taking this supplement or discontinuing any medication you are currently taking, you should check with your treating physician. The testimonials on this website are individuals and do not guarantee that you will get the same results."
The proposed disclaimer "is insufficient because the challenged claims it would qualify, which promise relief from nerve pain, are unsupported," the NAD said. "Given the lack of any competent and reliable supporting evidence in the record, NAD recommended that the challenged performance claims and testimonials be discontinued."
To read the NAD's press release about the decision, click here.
Why it matters: The lesson for advertisers? Don't think that just because claims are found on third-party websites or used by prior owners of the product, liability can be avoided. As the self-regulatory body emphasized, "NAD has held that advertisers apprised of inaccurate or unsupported claims being made about their products that appear in third-party advertising should take steps to ensure that such claims are promptly discontinued."