Webinar | June 23, 2022 | 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. ET | REGISTER

Effectively marketing your company’s charitable giving efforts requires not only the application of creative advertising principles, but an underlying familiarity with applicable responsibilities under federal, state, and even local laws. From sweepstakes and contests, to commercial coventurers’ charitable sales promotions, customer donation

A class action lawsuit filed against Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather, and former professional basketball player Paul Pierce earlier this month underscores the need for celebrity endorsers to take care when they approach any endorsement activity in the cryptocurrency space.

The lawsuit alleges that the celebrities collaborated with Ethereum Max, a company offering ERC-20 cryptocurrency tokens (EMAX Tokens), and its executives to engage in a “pump-and-dump” scheme promoting investments in the company’s tokens. The complaint alleges that the three celebrity influencers misleadingly promoted EMAX Tokens to potential investors, touting the ability of investors to make significant returns due to the favorable “tokenomics” of the EMAX Tokens, when in fact the tokens were practically worthless. The class action alleges violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act, aiding and abetting, and unjust enrichment/restitution.

According to the complaint, EthereumMax’s entire business model relies on marketing and promotional activities, and the celebrity promoters received EMAX Tokens and/or other compensation in return for promoting the tokens. (EthereumMax “has no connection” to Ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency, the lawsuit said, adding that its branding appears to be an effort to mislead investors into believing the token is part of the Ethereum network.) The promotional activities at issue included, among other things, making social media posts, wearing EMAX-branded shirts, and promoting the cryptocurrency at a conference.

Continue Reading “Are You Guys Into Crypto????”: Celebrities Promoting Cryptocurrencies Become Class Action Targets

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued Notices of Penalty Offenses regarding for-profit education, endorsements and testimonials, and money-making opportunities. Prior to this year, the FTC had used its Penalty Offense authority only once in this century. So why the sudden rebirth? In this webinar, Venable attorneys examined the FTC’s authority in this area, the substance of the notices, and their broad implications.

What Is a Penalty Offense?

Under the Penalty Offense authority, the FTC can seek civil penalties against a company or individual if it proves that they had actual knowledge that the FTC had already issued a written decision (after an administrative trial) against another entity that the same conduct was unfair or deceptive in violation of Section 5(m)(1)(b) of the FTC Act. Section 5 enables the FTC to hold the person, partnership, or corporation liable for a civil penalty of up to $43,792 per violation.

In the last few weeks, the FTC has sent out three different notices. The purpose of these notices was to allow the FTC to argue that the recipients had actual knowledge that the FTC had previously ruled certain acts or practices to be unfair or deceptive. Each of the letters specifies that the FTC is not singling out recipients or suggesting recipients are violating the law, which signifies that this is part of an effort to effect broad changes in industry behavior.

Continue Reading FTC’s Notice of Penalty Offenses: What Do They Mean for You?

With the complexity of product safety requirements, the changing regulatory environment, and the ferocious plaintiffs’ bar, it is more important than ever for importers, manufacturers, and retailers to understand their obligation to comply with product safety laws and standards. In this recent webinarMelissa L. Steinman, a partner in Venable’s Advertising and Marketing practice, explored current developments in product safety and warranty laws and examined common issues and pitfalls that organizations need to be aware of relating to product standards and safety. She also addressed some follow-up questions.

Continue Reading You Asked, We Answered – Consumer Product Safety and Warranties

Last week the FTC announced it had settled with mobile advertising platform Tapjoy regarding allegations that it failed to provide in-game rewards that users were promised for completing advertising offers. Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter also issued a Joint Statement on the settlement, criticizing mobile app “gatekeepers” for excessive “rent extraction” from mobile gaming apps, which they believe has forced developers to adopt alternative – and often harmful – means of generating revenue, such as loyalty offers and loot boxes. The settlement, and particularly the separate concurrence written by Democratic Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter, highlights the increased scrutiny over the entire mobile gaming ecosystem and the various businesses that operate within it.

Tapjoy operates a mobile advertising platform, acting as a middleman between advertisers, gamers, and game developers. The platform integrates “offers” into mobile games, promising users in-game currency and other rewards for completing the offers and promising developers a percentage of Tapjoy’s advertising revenue. Advertisers pay Tapjoy for each consumer who is induced to complete an offer, which often requires users to submit personal information or spend money, for example, by purchasing a product, enrolling in a continuity program, or completing a survey. Other offer requirements may include downloading an additional app or watching a short video.

Continue Reading FTC Cracks Down on Mobile Gaming Middlemen Offering In-Game Rewards and Offers

The COVID-19 crisis has spawned a new wave of predatory behavior toward consumers, with the marketing of coronavirus-related products and untested cures. Regulators have responded to these behaviors swiftly and in a variety of ways. Richard Cleland, assistant director – division of advertising practices at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Venable attorneys Melissa Steinman and Kristen Klesh addressed the advertising enforcement trends stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and offered their reflections on best practices for consumer protection.

How has the FTC addressed consumer complaints?

The FTC’s response to COVID-19-related violations has been a combination of education and enforcement. The agency recorded more than 130,000 complaints in approximately the first half of 2020; unsubstantiated health claims and health fraud are the main areas of concern. The FTC has issued more than 300 warning letters and has seen a high compliance rate (around 95%) with this course of action. These letters address claims that businesses are promoting the cure or treatment of COVID-19 through:

  • dietary supplements or treatment in medical or wellness clinics in the form of herbal teas, essential oils, vitamins, zinc, immunity boost IVs, chiropractic, homeopathic, other therapies, virus-killing “zappers,” and colloidal silver
  • anti-vaccine messaging

The FTC has also filed three federal court actions related to COVID-19 consumer fraud and the agency is conducting extensive consumer education campaigns related to health fraud and coronavirus scams. The FTC website examines various types of health and economic fraud related to the epidemic.

Continue Reading Ad Law in the Age of COVID-19 and Regulatory Reactions

Proud that your products are “Made in the USA”? Before you wave the flag, know that an unqualified Made in USA claim means that your product must be “all or virtually all” made in the United States, and the Federal Trade Commission has bolstered its enforcement authority over deceptive Made in USA claims with a new proposal to allow civil penalties for violations of its Made in the USA standards.

We previously blogged about recent Made in USA actions and the FTC’s September 2019 Made in USA workshop to evaluate updates to the FTC’s long-standing Made in USA Enforcement Policy. The Enforcement Policy provides that to substantiate an unqualified Made in USA claim, a product must be wholly domestic or all or virtually all made in the United States — meaning that “all significant parts and processing that go into the product are of U.S. origin.” Qualified claims — for example, “Made in USA from imported leather” — may be acceptable if they include clear and conspicuous disclosure of the extent to which the product contains foreign parts, ingredients, components, and/or processing.

Continue Reading Proposed FTC Rule to Allow Civil Penalties for Deceptive “Made in USA” Claims

The use of country of origin claims in advertising, and in particular “Made in USA” claims, has been around for a long time — many companies want to showcase products that have been made in the United States by marking them with the phrase or using the Stars and Stripes in advertising. Before making claims like “Made in America” or “Built in the USA,” though, sellers must understand the strict federal and state laws and standards for making such claims. In September 2019, the Federal Trade Commission held a public workshop “to consider ‘Made in USA’ and other types of U.S.-origin claims and in particular sought comments from the public on whether it should update its “Made in USA” Enforcement Policy.[1] While the Commission has not yet updated its Policy, it recently took action on two “Made in USA” cases, FTC v. Williams‑Sonoma and J-B Weld Company; moreover, J-B Weld is entangled in an ongoing class action in California, which has its own “Made in USA” standard. These cases show that the “Made in USA” regulation continues to be something sellers should pay close attention to when it comes to compliance.

“Made in USA” Background

Under Section 45a of the FTC Act, a product that is advertised or offered for sale with a “Made in USA,” “Made in America,” or an equivalent label must have domestic origins that are consistent with orders and decisions of the FTC. See 15 U.S.C. § 45a. The FTC’s Enforcement Policy provides that, to substantiate an unqualified “Made in USA” claim, a product must be wholly domestic or all or virtually all made in the United States. Specifically, “[a] product that is all or virtually all made in the United States will ordinarily be one in which all significant parts and processing that go into the product are of U.S. origin.”

Departing slightly from the “all or virtually all” standard, California law provides that companies cannot advertise Made in USA “if the merchandise or any article, unit, or part thereof, has been entirely or substantially made, manufactured, or produced outside of the United States.” Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17533.7. The statute also provides a 5% safe-harbor provision, providing that “[t]his section shall not apply to merchandise made, manufactured, or produced in the United States that has one or more articles, units, or parts from outside of the United States, if all of the articles, units, or parts of the merchandise obtained from outside the United States constitute not more than 5 percent of the final wholesale value of the manufactured product.”

Continue Reading “USA, USA, USA…” – Recent Updates on “Made in USA” Claims

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses and restaurants have been forced to close or to provide only limited services to customers. To ensure a sustained income stream, some businesses have been emphasizing the sale of gift cards or gift certificates—and the media have been encouraging consumers to support their favorites by pitching gift cards as the “war bonds” of the coronavirus pandemic. But while buying and selling gift cards can be a win-win for both consumers and the businesses issuing them, gift card issuers must remember to comply with federal and state gift card laws that impose restrictions on expiration dates and fees, require specific disclosures, and impose other regulatory requirements. With the upsurge in gift card activity, it’s a good time to review these laws and restrictions to ensure one does not end up as the target of a Federal Trade Commission or state attorney general inquiry or an expensive class action lawsuit.

Federal Regulation of Gift Cards

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (“CARD Act”) was signed into law on May 22, 2009. Although the name suggests this law pertains only to credit cards, it also applies to gift cards, stored value cards, and general-use prepaid cards that are sold or issued primarily for personal, family, or household use. Section 401 of the CARD Act requires specific disclosures regarding expiration dates and fees, limits dormancy, inactivity, and service fees, and establishes a minimum expiration date for these cards.

Continue Reading Are Gift Cards the War Bonds of the COVID-19 Era? Maybe So, but Issuers Still Need to Consider the Consumer Protection Laws

Times of national crisis tend to trigger an uptick in charitable solicitations and charitable giving. And for-profit businesses, including recognizable retail brands, want to do all they can to help as well. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, with its far-ranging economic and societal repercussions, many brands are engaging in coronavirus-related commercial co-venture (CCV) activities and cause marketing promotions, advertising to consumers that purchase or use of their product or service will benefit a charity or a charitable purpose.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a delayed federal income tax filing deadline, mortgage relief programs, and other types of suspended governmental requirements, the regulations applicable to charitable sales promotions and the commercial coventurers who carry them on remain fully in place. In some ways, compliance with these rules—particularly disclosure requirements—is more important than ever given the increased desire to act now and do good. There is no “pandemic exception” for compliance with states’ CCV laws, or state and federal truth‑in-advertising laws. Indeed, while states may accommodate reasonable filing or registration delays caused by COVID-related business interruptions and the FTC similarly has acknowledged the strain on all businesses right now, these regulators will also crack down on marketing abuses that take advantage of consumers’ generosity or fear during the pandemic. For brands wanting to capitalize on the moment, keep in mind the following basics when it comes to conducting a compliant campaign:

Continue Reading Charitable Sales Promotion Rules and Best Practices: Be Sure to Cross Your T’s and Dot Your I’s During the Pandemic