Just in time for bathing suit season, the Federal Trade Commission recently updated its advice to broadcasters about how to spot false claims in weight loss advertisements.  The FTC’s hope is that broadcasters will “think twice” before airing ads that seem too good to be true.

After consulting with scientists, the FTC compiled a list of seven representations that can’t be true for over-the-counter products like weight loss pills, dietary supplements, herbal remedies, patches, creams, wraps, etc.: 

  1. causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise;
  2. causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats;
  3. causes permanent weight loss even after the consumer stops using product;
  4. blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight;
  5. safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks;
  6. causes substantial weight loss for all users; or
  7. causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin.

The FTC also reminded broadcasters that companies that use endorsements in their ads have two choices: (1) either the results in the ad must be typical of what consumers can expect to achieve, or (2) the ad must clearly and conspicuously disclose what the typical results are.  Disclosures in footnotes or fleeting text, spoken too quickly to understand, or hidden behind vague hyperlinks aren’t likely to meet the “clear and conspicuous” standard.  And it’s also not enough to say “results not typical” or “your results will vary.”   Instead, effective disclosures should be:

  • close to the claims they relate to;
  • in an easy-to-read font at least as large as the font the advertiser uses to convey the claim;
  • in a shade that stands out against the background;
  • for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
  • for video or radio ads, spoken at a cadence that’s easy for consumers to follow; and
  • in words consumers will understand

The FTC’s guidance includes a quiz broadcasters can take to test their questionable claim-spotting skills.