On May 15, 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought suit against a group of companies and individuals marketing the dietary supplement “Pure Green Coffee.” The marketers began advertising and selling Pure Green Coffee in May of 2012, touting green coffee bean extract as a weight loss “miracle pill” and promising that users could “cut pounds of stomach fat every week by using this 1 weird old trick.”
The FTC alleged that the sellers’ websites and advertisements were deceptive because they made false or unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of the Pure Green Coffee supplement. To validate their weight-loss claims, the sellers relied on what their websites described as a “randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled” clinical study. The FTC, however, argued that the study was insufficient to support the claims, pointing to problems such as the small sample size (16 people) and unreliable results (the greatest weight loss occurred in a group that had only taken placebo pills).
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The purveyors of Pure Green Coffee also created news sites and consumer reports to promote their product. The FTC alleged that many of these sites, with reputable-sounding domain names such as “dailyconsumeralert.org,” included pictures of fictional journalists and fabricated stories touting the benefits of green coffee. Some of these websites also included logos of well-known organizations such as CNN and ABC. The FTC noted that this made it difficult for consumers to tell whether they were reading an ad or a news article, and misrepresented to consumers that objective news stations had investigated and verified the product’s effectiveness.
This action is part of a broader FTC focus on misleading health claims, which we have previously blogged about (here and here). Marketers should use special care when making health-related claims about their products and ensure that any claims made can be adequately substantiated by reliable scientific evidence. Marketers should also ensure that “advertorial”-type advertisements are clearly labeled as such, to avoid claims of deceiving consumers.