It’s here! The 11th edition of Venable’s popular Advertising Law Tool Kit is now available for download. This annual resource compiles a broad spectrum of marketing-related topics, background information, and checklists into an easy-to-access guide, authored by some of the most experienced attorneys in the industry. Download this year’s Tool Kit or bookmark the link
You Asked, We Answered – Consumer Product Safety and Warranties
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 webinar, Melissa 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.
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Heads Up! NAD Recommends Discontinuing WaveCel Safety Claim
In formulating a health and safety-related claim, advertisers walk a fine line in accurately conveying the results of reliably conducted studies to support their claims. Disclaimers and other qualifying language are limited tools advertisers can use to mitigate the risk of a claims challenge. But as a recent NAD decision shows, just because a study is reliably conducted, does not necessarily mean it is a good fit to support an advertising claim. Thus, basing a claim on a reliably conducted study can still be held to be misleading if the study results do not closely reflect what the average consumer could realistically expect to achieve. What’s more, this recent decision reminds advertisers that a lengthy disclosure may not be sufficient when it fails to disclose a wide variability in observed study results.
On February 25, 2020, the National Advertising Division (NAD) issued a decision and recommendation that Trek Bikes discontinue use of the claim that its WaveCel helmet is “up to 48x more effective than traditional foam helmets in protecting your head from injuries caused by certain cycling accidents.” Although the cited “Bliven Study” demonstrated that the WaveCel helmet in fact outperformed traditional foam helmets for head injury protection in all impact scenarios, the NAD was concerned the claim conveyed the implied message that “People who use the WaveCel Helmet will have little to no risk of experiencing a concussion.”…
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The FTC Gets Real About Fake “Organic” Claims
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a $1.76 million settlement with Truly Organic, Inc. and its founder and CEO Maxx Harley Appelman regarding false “organic” claims. This is the first time the FTC has obtained monetary relief for deceptive “organic” claims, and the buzz around this settlement signals it may not be the last. The Commissioners’ vote was unanimous, and Commissioner Rohit Chopra released a statement in support of the settlement calling for the FTC to issue a Policy Statement setting forth the Commission’s approach to enforcement in cases involving dishonesty or fraud.
Truly Organic is a bath and beauty retailer that makes and sells a variety of personal care products, including hair care products, body washes, lotions, baby products, and cleaning products. As the brand name suggests, Truly Organic markets its products as wholly organic or certified organic in compliance with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program (NOP), the program that enforces national standards for organically produced agricultural products. Truly Organic conveyed the organic theme through a variety of claims, including “100% organic,” “truly organic,” “certified organic,” and “USDA certified organic.” The company also claimed its products were “vegan.”…
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A Day Late and $1.2M Short: NY AG Fines Dollar Store Chains for Selling Expired Medicines and Obsolete Motor Oil, Violating Bottle Deposit Law
Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar will pay $1.2 million in fines and restitution to the New York Attorney General to resolve allegations that they routinely sold expired medicines and failed to comply with New York’s bottle deposit law. The bulk of the penalty – $1.1 million – will be paid by Dollar General, which is accused of selling two types of motor oil that have been obsolete for almost 30 and 90 years, respectively.
Investigators began secretly shopping at the discount chains in March 2016, inspecting shelves for expired products. At stores throughout the state of New York, they found over-the-counter medicines for sale months past their expiration dates. At Dollar General stores, they also found at least two types of store-brand motor oil that is not suitable for most modern car engines. One type of motor oil has been obsolete since 1988, and the other since 1930. These motor oils were placed on store shelves next to, and used packaging with the same or similar descriptors as, brand-name motor oils that are suitable for modern engines. There were no signs or other indicators to warn customers that they should be used only on antique vehicles.…
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Let’s Get This “Local” Bread!
Bimbo Bakeries and U.S. Bakery recently found out that consumer confusion, like politics, is local, and that “local” means what the local consumer says it means. Let’s unbraid this loaf.
In Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc. v. Sycamore, No. 2:13-CV-00749, 2019 WL 1058234 (D. Utah Mar. 5, 2019), the jury originally awarded Bimbo $8,027,720 in damages on its false advertising claim against U.S. Bakery, which tried multiple times to convince the court that what makes bread “local” is really a matter of the seller’s opinion, or at least that claiming bread is “local” is mere puffery. According to U.S. Bakery, “local” is a geographical term, but not a geographically descriptive term entitled to Lanham Act protection, because “local” is not a specified location.…
But Wait, There’s More! . . . Litigation: Federal Court Sustains Lanham Act Claims Against Allegedly False “As Seen On TV” Advertising
Many retailers carry products with the phrase “As Seen on TV.” What if a product bearing that phrase, however, had not actually been seen on TV? A recent case in federal court in the Southern District of New York ponders that question.
In an advertising war between copper cookware competitors, plaintiff Emson sued its competitor Masterpan under the Lanham Act challenging claims made for the “The Original Copper Pan” (“OCP”). These claims included Masterpan’s use of the “As Seen On TV” logo; that the OCP was “original;” and that the OCP was “copper-infused,” “made of ultra-tough copper,” and made with “copper construction.” Emson alleged, among other things, that: (a) Masterpan falsely represented the OCP with its “As Seen On TV” label; (b) Masterpan’s “original” advertising deceived the public into believing that the OCP was the first copper pan of its kind; and (c) Masterpan mischaracterized the amount of copper in the OCP. Emson contended that these false claims diverted sales from Emson’s own “Gotham Steel” products, traded off its goodwill, and deceived consumers. Masterpan moved to dismiss Emson’s claims for lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and failure to state a claim.…
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Insights into the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plays a significant role in regulating consumer financial services providers and vendors, including advertisers and marketers. A recent webinar from the Consumer Financial Services Committee of the American Bar Association featured an interview with Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP). Mr. Smith, who was confirmed in May 2018, shared his personal views of his role at the FTC, the FTC’s development, and enforcement trends and focus in the consumer financial services sector. Below we highlight the main areas of focus that Mr. Smith touched upon that in our view are relevant to the consumer financial services sector.
Because of the nature of the webinar, this summary is not intended to be a complete transcript, does not reflect the views of the FTC, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Mr. Smith or any individual at the FTC.
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Second Circuit Says Multi-State Consumer Class Actions Might Not Be All-Natural
Consumer class actions predicated on state laws alleging deceptive claims are one of the scourges of modern marketing. In a recent decision, the Second Circuit laid out some important guidance on whether and how putative class actions based on laws of different states can move forward.
In Langan v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., Langan, a Connecticut resident, sued J&J for violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), alleging that two Aveeno Baby washes were deceptively marketed as containing “natural oat formula” when they allegedly only contained 1% natural ingredients. Langan sought class certification on behalf of Connecticut consumers and consumers in 17 other states who purchased the two baby washes under those states’ “mini-FTC Acts”.
A Connecticut federal district judge certified a class of consumers who had purchased the products in 18 states—rejecting J&J’s arguments that the Plaintiff lacked Article III standing to bring a class action under multiple state laws and that the state consumer protection laws were too varied to satisfy the predominance requirement of Rule 23.…
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#SaferProductsForAll – Global Developments in Product Safety
On June 25, 2018, four major online retailers, Alibaba (for AliExpress), Amazon, eBay, Rakuten-France, and the European Commission signed a Product Safety Pledge to remove dangerous products in which they committed to the following for the benefit of European consumer safety:
- “React within two working days to authorities’ notices made to the companies’ contact points to remove listings offering unsafe products. Companies should follow up and inform the authorities on the action taken.
- Provide a clear way for customers to notify dangerous product listings. Such notices are treated expeditiously and appropriate response is given within five working days.
- Consult information on recalled/dangerous products available on the EU Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products and also from other sources, such as from enforcement authorities and take appropriate action with respect to the products concerned, when they can be identified.
- Provide specific single contact points for EU Member State authorities for the notifications on dangerous products and for the facilitation of communication on product safety issues.
- Take measures aimed at preventing the reappearance of dangerous product listings already removed.
- Provide information/training to sellers on compliance with EU product safety legislation, require sellers to comply with the law, and provide sellers with the link to the list of EU product safety legislation.”
See the full European Commission press release here.…
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