Skeptical Susan says: In your story about cosmetics that really work, you mentioned all those products that don’t really do what they say. That made me wonder why don’t any of these companies ever get in trouble if they’re lying? I thought we had laws against false advertising.
The Right Brain retorts:
You’re correct, there are laws against false advertising. They vary from county to country but generally speaking for those laws to take effect someone has to initiate a challenge against the suspicious advertiser. That challenge can come from a consumer such as yourself, another company, or from an interested party such as a consumer group or governmental body.
Two ways to challenge
Regardless of who initiates the challenge, in the US there are two basic ways by which advertisements are “policed.” The first way involves taking the company directly to court because you believe you can show their advertisement is false and misleading. If the courts rule in the plaintiff’s favor, the offending company can be forced to stop specific advertising and they may have to pull recall product from distribution. In addition, the court can levy fines against the company if warranted. This is not usually the course that is followed because of the time and money involved in engaging the legal system.
Most of the time, cases are reviewed by an arbitrating body, specifically the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau. The NAD has no specific legal authority and can not punish companies for running bad ads, but their opinion carries a lot of weight. So if the NAD rules against a company, in most cases, the advertiser follows their advice (or they may face more severe action in court.) While the general public may not realize it, companies are challenged on their claims ALL the time. In fact here’s a recent example from the NAD case files issued April 2008:
Is Actifade illegal?
This case involves a product called Actifade, a sunspot/age spot fade cream. We’ve blogged before about similar products like Meladerm and other skin lighteners. These are Over The Counter (OTC) drugs because they contain active ingredients that reduce skin pigmentation. The NAD took issue with the advertiser’s claims because product performance claims should follow the language in the OTC drug monograph. Here’s how the NAD ruled on specific Actifade claims:
- Claims regarding “stopping sun spots, age spots and liver spots” implied that the product permanently eliminated skin discolorations and are not supported by any data from the advertiser. Claims about looking “5, 10, even 20 years younger” are also not supported. Both claims should be discontinued
- The claims “Younger looking skin has never been easier” and “Just rub it on and it works,” must be modified to avoid implying that the products immediately remove age spots
- The claim “Actifade combines a cosmetic with powerful medication that will fade sun spots, age spots and dark discoloration with no greasy mess” is acceptable and can be used.
The Beauty Brains Bottom Line
As a result of this NAD challenge, Actifade has agreed to change their advertising. If they had not agreed, they could have been taken to court to face more serious action. So there you have it – that’s how the system protects us from false advertising.
What do YOU think? Does the legal system do a good job of protecting the public from fraudulent cosmetic claims? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.