The Federal Trade Commission settled with NourishLife, LLC, and its owner after charging the defendants with making deceptive claims about their dietary supplements.

Speak softgels, capsules, and Speak Smooth liquid supplements were advertised to help children with speech disorders, including those associated with autism. But the FTC said the company took advantage of parents’ trust by charging $70 per bottle for products that lacked scientific support for its claims.

Over at least a four-year period, the defendants marketed Speak products on the Internet and via sponsored links on search engines. When consumers searched for the term “toddler speech problems,” for example, a Speak sponsored link would display the statement “Healthy Speech for Child – SpeechNutrients speak Supplement” with a link to a Web site with product endorsements made by parents whose children used the Speak line. According to the agency, the site itself was maintained by the defendants.

The defendants’ claims – that the supplements could develop and maintain normal, healthy speech and language capabilities in children, including those with verbal apraxia (a motor speech disorder that impacts the ability to make sounds, syllables, and words) were unsupported, the FTC said, despite being touted as clinically proven.

The agency also found fault with the endorsements (such as “Speak vitamins have made my little boy talk. He is five years old and has not spoken until I began giving him vitamins”). The defendants failed to disclose their affiliation with parent endorsers who had received free supplements, the FTC said.

Pursuant to the settlement, the defendants will pay $200,000. NourishLife and its owner are prohibited from making false or unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of any dietary supplement, food, or drug and are banned from providing third-party distributors with deceptive marketing materials.

They must disclose any material connections to endorsers, and they are also barred from misrepresenting that their Web sites or publications advertising their products are independently owned.

To read the complaint and stipulated order in FTC v. NourishLife LLC, click here.

Why it matters: The settlement with NourishLife is an important reminder for advertisers and provides a refresher course of how to comply with the FTC’s Endorsement and Testimonial Guides, which mandate that any material connections between advertisers and endorsers be clearly and conspicuously disclosed. In addition, the agency found the terms purchased by the defendants for keyword advertising were relevant in evaluating the net impression the campaign conveyed to consumers. Finally, marketers should note the FTC found the defendants liable for the promotional materials they provided to third parties that perpetuated the deception about Speak products.