Key Takeaway:

Companies making Made in USA claims should adhere to Federal Trade Commission guidance and state law, as such claims are likely to draw attention from regulators and class action plaintiffs.  Additional detail on regulatory compliance can be found in our prior post.

Deceptive Made in USA advertising continues to draw attention from the FTC. The FTC recently settled with hockey puck producer Patriot Puck and recreational equipment sister companies Sandpiper and PiperGearUSA regarding their allegedly false Made in USA claims. This brings the total number of FTC enforcement actions arising from misleading U.S.-origin claims to 25 since 1999, with six of those actions having been initiated since April 2017.[1] Continue Reading Made in USA: The FTC Moves Against Two More Retailers

Consumers notice and are more likely to buy products that are marketed as Made in USA, but companies face significant legal risk, negative publicity, and decades of government oversight if they overstate the extent to which their products are made in the United States.

  • Companies marketing their products without qualification as Made in USA must at least meet the “all or virtually all” standard, meaning that all significant parts and processing that go into the product are of U.S. origin.
  • Federal, state, self-regulatory, and private actors are increasingly bringing enforcement actions and other litigation for false or misleading use of Made in USA labels.

This update from September outlines the FTC’s enforcement policy on U.S.-origin claims and analyzes recent actions challenging such false or misleading claims. Read the full Update here.

Takeaways:

  1. Support any comparative claims and clearly disclose the basis of the comparison.
  2. Be specific about claims regarding products or components made in the United States.

Last month, the National Advertising Division (NAD), a self-regulatory body, recommended that Telebrands, Corp., discontinue certain advertising claims for the company’s Atomic Beam flashlight, including claims comparing its brightness and durability, associating it with the U.S. military, and identifying its components as made in the United States.

NAD recommended, among other things, that Telebrands discontinue its claims that the Atomic Beam is “40 times brighter” and more durable than ordinary flashlights and provides features (such as strobe or zoom) that ordinary flashlights do not provide because the company did not submit evidence showing a superior brightness over such “ordinary” or “regular” flashlights or that the “tactical” features of its flashlights were not available on other flashlights.

In response to the challenge from Energizer Brands LLC alleging that the advertising also created the false impression that the Atomic Beam was endorsed by or associated with the U.S. military, Telebrands changed the name of the product to “Atomic Beam” from “Atomic Beam USA” and removed a statement in a commercial that the Atomic Beam uses “U.S. Special Forces Tactical Technology” while displayed with an action shot of military commandos.

NAD also recommended that the company discontinue its claim that the “critical components” in the flashlights are “made right here in the USA” but confirmed that the company could make truthful and qualified claims that specific parts are made in the United States.

See NAD’s press release for more information about these and other claims about the Atomic Beam flashlight.

A California appeals court has allowed a putative-class-action complaint to proceed against an online retailer based on a consumer’s allegation that the retailer falsely advertised price discounts and that the consumer would not have purchased the items if he knew he was not receiving a discount.

In Hansen v. Newegg.com Americas Inc., Case No. B271477, the Fifth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals reversed the lower court. The lower court had dismissed for lack of standing, reasoning that plaintiff received exactly what he paid for. The Court of Appeals held, however, that the plaintiff had established standing because he claimed the “list prices” (which were crossed out and next to a lower, actual price) were inflated and that he would not have purchased his items if he had known the list prices were misrepresented. This was enough to establish injury to “money or property,” as required by California law. The opinion discussed both California Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent interpreting California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law.

Takeaway: Companies will want to carefully monitor compliance with pricing laws as pricing and discount class actions will continue to be filed in California.

 

Takeaways:

  1. Health-related advertising claims must be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence, generally consisting of human clinical trials that are methodologically sound and statistically significant to the 95% confidence level.
  2. Advertising claims must be clearly expressed as ingredient claims if the substantiation addresses only the efficacy of the ingredients in the product, not the product itself.

Continue Reading National Advertising Division Recommends that VH Nutrition Discontinue Claims for TriDrive Supplement Marketed to Athletes

The NAD recently recommended that Perdue Farms, Inc. modify or discontinue certain TV and YouTube ads about Perdue’s “Harvestland Organic” chicken. Tyson Foods, Inc. challenged the Perdue ads before the NAD, arguing that they broadly communicated that all of Perdue’s chickens are “happy” and raised “organically” (free-range, non-GMO, 100% vegetarian-fed, and raised without antibiotics). Perdue responded that ads only communicated claims about Perdue’s “Harvestland Organic” sub-brand. The NAD, however, viewed the overall “net impression” conveyed by the ads and found that they communicated broad claims about all of Perdue’s chickens, in part because the ads contained many visual and audio references to the primary Perdue brand, but only fleeting visual references to the Harvestland Organic logo. Perdue announced that it will appeal the NAD’s decision. Continue Reading National Advertising Division Recommends that Perdue Farms Discontinue Ads About Happy, Organic Chickens

Takeaways:

  1. Regulators continue to emphasize that relative comparisons in advertising must be supported by fact-based evidence.
  2. Each claim in an advertisement remains subject to review by the National Advertising Division.

Continue Reading National Advertising Division Recommends that Maker of Reusable Storage Bags Discontinue Unsupported Comparative Advertising Claims

The annual ABA Antitrust Law Spring Meeting held in Washington, D.C., last month included sessions on consumer protection. Key takeaways include the following:

  • The FTC Act remains broad in scope, claims about products treating serious diseases must be supported by clinical testing, and companies promoting their products as “Made in the USA” must meet the “all or virtually all” standard, meaning that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of U.S. origin.
  • When the GDPR goes into effect on May 25, 2018, U.S. companies that target their goods and services to EU residents or track the behavior of EU residents will be subject to its new requirements, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in the European Union.
  • Absent congressional action, the current debate on net neutrality is likely to continue for years to come.
  • A website or online service directed toward children that collects personal information (or an online service with knowledge of the data collection) must comply with COPPA, and regulators observe that it is less expensive for companies to build compliance on the front end than to retrofit a service.

This update details discussions on the above topics covered at the April meeting. Read the full Update here.

Because pricing discount and sales class actions are likely to continue and retailers, especially brick-and-mortar ones, may have difficulty enforcing arbitration agreements and class action waivers, companies will want to not only check the ways in which they draft and enforce arbitration agreements, but carefully monitor compliance with pricing laws.

The Tenth Circuit recently affirmed a district court’s denial of J.C. Penney’s bid to compel arbitration in a putative class action challenging J.C. Penney’s pricing discounts and sales in Cavlovic v. J.C. Penney Corp., Inc., No. 2:17-CV-02042-JAR-TJJ (10th Cir. March 7, 2018). The case involved an in-store transaction. The Court of Appeals rejected J.C. Penney’s attempt to enforce (1) an arbitration clause contained in a credit card agreement; and (2) an arbitration clause contained in the agreement governing J.C. Penney’s rewards program.Shopping bags in the mall

Plaintiff purchased a pair of earrings at a J.C. Penney retail location with an advertised price of $209.99. The earrings were marked with a previous price of $524.98, and Plaintiff also received 25% off due to an additional sale. After purchasing the earrings and retuning home, Plaintiff claimed that she noticed an original price tag of 225, which was blacked out. Alleging the former price of $524.98 was fraudulently inflated and that she should have been given a discount off the $225 price, she sued J.C. Penney. She alleged false advertising under the Kansas Consumer Protection Act and asserted that she suffered emotional distress.

In response, J.C. Penney tried to enforce two different arbitration clauses–one from a J.C. Penney’s branded credit card (used to purchase the earrings) and the other from a rewards program (of which Plaintiff was a member). J.C. Penney lost on both arguments. The Tenth Circuit held that J.C. Penney was not a party to the credit card agreement formed between the issuing bank and the Plaintiff, and could not enforce the contract as a third party under Utah law, which governed the agreement. As for the rewards program, while J.C. Penney was a party to that agreement, the Court determined Plaintiff’s complaint was outside the scope of the arbitration clause, which governed disputes only “arising from or relating to” the rewards program itself.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the State of Maine recently delivered yet another “gut check” to businesses engaging in weight loss advertising, Map of Maineobtaining a $2 million dollar settlement against an advertising agency related to allegedly false claims. While challenges related to weight loss claims and related offers are all too familiar for brands, this settlement serves as a heavy reminder to ad agencies that they can also be held responsible for false advertising.

In its complaint against Marketing Architects Inc. (MAI), the FTC and Maine alleged that radio ads created and disseminated by MAI for its client, Direct Alternatives (the maker of Puranol, Pur-Hoodia Plus, PH Plus, Acai Fresh, AF Plus, and Final Trim) made a number of (1) false or unsubstantiated  weight loss claims; (2) false or inadequately-disclosed “free trial” claims; and (3) false testimonials or ads disguised as testimonials. Continue Reading Agency Beware: False Advertising Liability Applies to Agencies Too