A "brain training" system offered by Lumos Labs was the target of a recent Federal Trade Commission enforcement action, with the agency alleging that the creators and marketers of the Lumosity program deceived consumers in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The defendants claimed the program's 40 different games would improve specific areas of the brain that would lead to better performance at work and school, reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions (ranging from stroke to ADHD to the side effects of chemotherapy), and help users achieve their "full potential in every aspect of life." Using TV and radio ads, Lumos suggested that users train for 10 to 15 minutes three to four times each week. The online and mobile app subscriptions were priced on a monthly basis ($14.95) or lifetime ($299.95).
The agency said that the claims were unsupported by scientific evidence, and that Lumos Labs failed to disclose that some of the consumer testimonials on its site (such as, "I joined Lumosity at first for my mother. I now use this site not only for her, but for my brain as well.") were solicited using contests with prizes that included a free iPad and a round-trip visit to San Francisco.
"Lumosity preyed on consumers' fears about age-related cognitive decline," Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads."
To settle the charges, the defendants agreed to obtain competent and reliable scientific evidence before making future claims about performance benefits, age-related decline, or other health conditions. Lumos will also provide consumers with an "easy" way to cancel their auto-renewal program. A $50 million judgment will be suspended upon a $2 million payment in redress.
To read the complaint and the stipulated final judgment in FTC v. Lumos Labs, click here.
Why it matters: Health-related claims remain on the FTC's radar and advertisers should ensure they have the necessary scientific evidence to avoid an enforcement action from the agency. The Commission noted that in addition to the use of television and radio advertisements, the Lumos Labs defendants heavily marketed their products through e-mails, blog posts, social media, and their website by purchasing "hundreds" of keywords related to memory, cognition, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.