“Free” is rarely free.
Find out which companies (and people) are on TINA.org's 2020 naughty list for deceptive marketing.
As we ring in the New Year, we at TINA.org like to wring out companies and/or people whose advertising didn’t meet truth-in-advertising standards. Here’s who is on TINA.org’s 2020 list:
Snow Teeth Whitening
When it snows, it snows a lot? OK, so maybe that’s a stretch. But so are claims that Snow Teeth Whitening’s products provide various teeth-whitening benefits, protect against COVID-19 and have been approved by the FDA, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in December. The lawsuit comes a year after TINA.org alerted the FDA to Snow’s unauthorized use of its logo on product packaging and the company took steps to remove it. In addition to the company and its founder, the lawsuit names as defendants celebrity promoters Rob Gronkowski and Floyd Mayweather, who’s already on TINA.org’s Wall of Shame for deceptively promoting cryptocurrencies.
In 2020, TINA.org took a closer look at how Amazon promotes and profits from deceptively marketed supplements. The year started with the publication in January of a TINA.org investigation that showed Amazon not only turning a blind eye to claims that these unproven products improve memory, among other purported cognitive benefits, but making sure consumers see them in search results through its own marketing tools. Then, in February, TINA.org published an ad alert on an Amazon Google ad that invited consumers to “Shop FDA Approved Supplements” on Amazon.com, despite the fact that the FDA does not review supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are sold, much less approve them. In response to an inquiry by TINA.org, Google removed the ad as well as a carousel of sponsored products appearing above it in search results for “FDA approved supplements.” Finally, in December, TINA.org published another ad alert on an Amazon autocomplete suggestion for “B17”: “b17 vitamin for cancer.” The search yielded 232 results, many of them supplements. The problem, or rather, problems: B17 isn’t a vitamin, it hasn’t been proven to be effective “for cancer” and it may even be toxic. Following an inquiry by TINA.org, Amazon removed the suggested search.
The pandemic brought out all sorts of scammers claiming their products prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. Among those that landed on TINA.org’s radar were the operator of a fake news article used to sell an essential oils blend; the founder of a supplement company whose radio ads have been flooding the airwaves; the maker of alcohol-free hand sanitizers; more than 40 clinics offering IV therapies; and … Tom Brady. In addition, a recent TINA.org investigation found that 16 MLMs warned by the FTC to stop making deceptive health and income claims linked to the pandemic had ignored the FTC’s warning.
Essential oils giant doTerra was one of the 16 MLMs that received an FTC warning letter. But the FTC wasn’t the only regulatory agency that investigated the company’s marketing claims this year, following a TINA.org complaint to the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC) in 2019. Around the same time the FTC sent its warning letter in April, the DSSRC issued a case decision based on TINA.org’s complaint stating that doTerra distributors had been making unsubstantiated health claims, as well as deceptive income claims, to sell products and promote the doTerra business opportunity. Then, in October, it was the National Advertising Division’s turn. In an inquiry that focused on marketing statements made directly by the company as opposed to distributors, NAD found that doTerra did not provide a reasonable basis for claims that its essential oils, when used aromatically, provide certain health benefits, including specific benefits for mood, emotions and the mind. It was all part of doTerra’s year of reckoning.
Ten months after TINA.org filed a complaint urging the FTC to reopen its investigation into Williams-Sonoma for deceptive made in the USA claims, the FTC in March announced a $1 million settlement with the home goods and kitchenware company that prohibits it from making misleading U.S.-origin claims in the future. It was a much harsher punishment than the closing letter that the FTC sent the e-commerce giant in June 2018, which really wasn’t much of a punishment at all. At the time, Williams-Sonoma had assured the FTC that it had a process in place to “prevent consumer deception with respect to country-of-origin claims for products on its websites,” leading the agency to close out its inquiry. But that clearly wasn’t the case, which is why Williams-Sonoma holds a spot on this year’s naughty list.
Read more about TINA.org’s work exposing false and deceptive advertising in 2020 here.