What does it mean when the National Advertising Division refers a case to the Federal Trade Commission? At this year’s NAD Annual Conference, Mary K. Engle, the associate director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices, and NAD director Laura Brett sorted fact from fiction about NAD referrals and shared their perspectives from both sides of the process. Read on to learn more about the referral process and the key takeaways from their discussion.

To start, Ms. Brett acknowledged that in an ideal world, parties would voluntarily participate in and comply with the NAD review process, which would eliminate the need for referrals to the FTC. Although referrals constitute a small percentage of the work the NAD does, Ms. Brett views referrals as a failure of the self-regulatory process. Ms. Brett went on to explain that referrals arise from one of two main scenarios: (1) failure to file a substantive written response or (2) failure to comply with a NAD or NARB decision. That latter category can be further broken down into situations where (a) the advertiser has not agreed to comply with a decision, or (b) the advertiser has not complied by failing to make a bona fide attempt to bring its advertising into compliance with NAD/NARB recommendations after a reasonable amount of time. Once a decision has been made to refer the case to the FTC, the NAD packages up the case file and sends it to the Advertising Practices Division (the “Division”).


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To kick off this year’s National Advertising Division Annual Conference, Andrew Smith—the FTC’s new Director of the Consumer Protection Bureau—discussed his views on the Commission’s priorities with respect to remedies, privacy and data security, and national advertising cases. Given the backgrounds of the new Commissioners, Director Smith acknowledged that some of them may be

The ink was barely dry on our Monday blog when a new skirmish broke out (both on Twitter and in official records) in the FTC’s long-brewing remedy wars. This time the battle took place in another unlikely location – three Made in USA settlements.

First to set the scene. The FTC generals announced that they had accepted surrenders from three combatants who were attempting to sell products allegedly mislabeled as Made in USA. In one instance there were hockey pucks, “Patriot Pucks” that were patriotic if you happened to be a citizen of China and that were marketed as “The Only American-Made Hockey Puck.” In another instance, mattresses that were wholly imported from China were labeled as “designed and assembled in the USA.” And finally, backpacks and wallets were sold on websites that claimed to feature “American-Made Products” and the wallets were specifically promoted as “American Made.”


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No one in law school ever mentioned that social media was required professional reading. (Well, let’s be honest. There wasn’t social media when we were in law school). However, perhaps inspired by our President, Twitter has become quite interesting lately when it comes to the FTC. One of the more interesting tweet storms started as a result of the FTC’s recent action modifying a consent agreement reached with Speedway. The Speedway modification is itself a fascinating tale. In brief, fifteen years ago, Speedway agreed to refund $1 million to consumers as a result of allegedly deceptive statements about a fuel additive. Speedway was supposed to redistribute funds from checks that ultimately went uncashed but failed to distribute about $80,000 of the million that went uncashed. Fifteen years later, Speedway self-reported the violation and proposed sending the money to the U.S. Treasury in lieu of sending an additional $1 or so to each of the initial recipients. This practice, as the majority notes, also conforms to more recent Commission practice which allows for the remittance of uncashed funds to the Treasury. Four Commissioners approved this modification, noting, among other things, the cost of forcing Speedway to comply with the order as written and that had Speedway not self-reported the violation, it would have never been detected. Commissioner Chopra dissented, noting that allowing Speedway to now simply send a check to the U.S. Treasury saved it the expense of finding and sending checks to individual consumers and that Speedway should not profit from its order non‑compliance. As a side note, Commissioner Chopra also called for clearer guidance when it comes to any benefits associated with self-reporting a suggestion which the majority called “worth consideration.” (Currently, as a matter of enforcement discretion, the Commission will sometimes close investigations when a company corrects a violation prior to the initiation of a Commission investigation, which is, in a manner of speaking, a variation of self-reporting).
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It seems like we (and the NAD) can’t get enough of “best.” In a recent case, the National Advertising Division (NAD) ruled that the advertiser, Mahindra USA, Inc., could not claim its products were superior without reasonable evidence.

Deere & Company, Inc. challenged Mahindra’s tractor advertisements as unsubstantiated superiority claims. Mahindra’s ads included “Best” claims such as: best-selling, best value, best warranty, best performance, “toughest tractors,” and superior engine oil. Additionally, Mahindra advertised consumer testimonials that expressed disappointment in the quality of John Deere tractors compared to Mahindra tractors.

Of course, context is king and “Best” advertisements can either be substantive claims, or considered mere “puffery.” (See here for a discussion on NAD and “best” claims). For some of the challenges in this case, Mahindra conceded its ads were substantive claims and argued that they were factually supported. For instance, Mahindra argued its best-selling claims were based on unbiased data. NAD agreed that a reasonable basis existed for the claims (although additional disclosures were necessary). For the majority of the challenged advertisements, however, Mahindra argued its statements were puffery. NAD rejected this defense in all but one instance and recommended discontinuation of the ads.


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Do you have the best wireless provider? If so, best in what sense—the best contract, the best devices, the best connectivity, the best value? That was the issue NAD recently addressed when it recommended that T-Mobile discontinue its “Best Unlimited Network” claim. AT&T challenged T-Mobile’s tagline in a recent NAD case, arguing that it was an unqualified superiority claim that T-Mobile couldn’t substantiate.

Now, the advertising world is no stranger to the word “best,” which we discussed in an earlier post on The Absolute Best Puffery Panel Ever. The problem arises when “best” is meant as a measurable claim, including its use here in connection with the phrase “unlimited network.” As NAD pointed out in this T-Mobile decision, wireless service providers should be able to tout the advantages that their innovations provide, but their claims must be substantiated to avoid misleading consumers. NAD reiterated in the T-Mobile decision that broad superiority claims (like “best” or “largest”) must be supported by reliable market data.


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Taking a page from Federal Trade Commission legend (and one of our mentors) Bob Pitofsky, the FTC recently announced that it plans to hold a series of public hearings modeled after the FTC’s 1995 “Global Competition and Innovation Hearings.” New FTC Chair Joe Simons said that the hearings will provide the FTC with an opportunity to engage in “self-examination and critical thinking” to ensure that the agency can keep pace with changes in the economy. Chairman Simons also recently told reporters that regardless of what the hearings may demonstrate, “Just in terms of priorities: our mantra is vigorous enforcement. That is what I did the last time I was here in the Bureau of Competition, and that is what I expect to do now not only in competition but also in consumer protection.”

Public comments may be submitted on any of the proposed topics until August 20 with hearings expected to take place in the fall and winter. Most of the topics are of more relevance to the Commission’s competition mission, but a few also relate to consumer protection. For example, the Commission is inviting comments on the state of consumer protection law and enforcement generally as well as consumer protection issues specific to the communications, information and media technology fields. Comments are also invited on the Commission’s investigation, enforcement and remedial processes as well as possible unfair or deceptive conduct in markets that feature “platform businesses.” Not surprisingly there are also a number of topics centered around data security including the extent of the Commission’s remedial authority.


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gavelWe blogged recently on the 11th Circuit’s decision that the FTC’s order against LabMD is unenforceable. If you enjoyed that blog, then you’re in luck because we have more LabMD versus FTC content coming your way. In a separate case, LabMD and its chief executive Michael Daugherty sued individual FTC attorneys, arguing that they ramped up the Commission’s investigation into LabMD in retaliation for public criticisms of the FTC made by Daugherty. Whether that’s true or not ultimately proved unimportant because the D.C. Circuit found that the FTC employees held qualified immunity protecting them from suit.

What is qualified immunity? It’s an immunity from civil suits covering a public official who is alleged to have violated a person’s rights while he or she was performing discretionary office duties. To determine whether qualified immunity may be granted, courts need to answer two questions: (1) Did the officer’s conduct violate a constitutional or statutory right? If so, (2) was that right clearly established at the time of the violation? For the right to be “clearly established,” the precedent has to put the right’s existence beyond debate. But even if there is no case law on point, if every reasonable official would know that he or she is violating the right, then such official would be stripped of the immunity. The Supreme Court cautioned against defining such right in general terms in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd. In that case, such claimed rights as “the general proposition . . . that an unreasonable search or seizure violates the Fourth Amendment” or “the general right to be free from retaliation for one’s speech [under the First Amendment]” were dismissed as too general.


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video projectorMany of you are no doubt familiar with ANSI testing, which is often touted as the gold standard in assessing product performance. However, other types of third-party tests exist, even if they have not risen to the level of being an “industry standard.” A recent NAD decision sheds some light on when and how advertisers can use such tests in their advertising.

Epson America, Inc. was challenged by Texas Instruments, Inc. (TI) for advertising its 3-chip 3LCD projectors as superior to TI’s 1-chip DLP imagers. 3LCD and 1-chip DLP are the two leading types of projectors and compete based on a number of attributes. TI alleged that Epson improperly relied upon Color Light Output (CLO) as a measure of brightness performance. (CLO is a relatively new method of assessing the brightness of individual colors which can then be compared to the overall lumens, or white brightness of a projector. (Still with us?)). TI also alleged that Epson made overall image superiority claims even though it only tested specific performance attributes. Finally, TI also alleged that Epson inadequately disclosed its affiliation with native advertising websites.


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