The FTC has been pounding the pavement this week, giving testimony, statements, and remarks to multiple types of audiences, including the U.S. Senate. More on these talks, as well as an update on a forthcoming event on protecting children from digital advertising, after the jump.
In an expansion designed to bring its advertising review jurisdiction in line with those of international self-regulatory organizations and enforcers, the National Advertising Division (NAD) has expanded its review authority so that it not only covers the truth and accuracy of national advertising, but also advertising that portrays “negative harmful social stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination.” In so doing, NAD seeks to adapt its review process to permit the review of ads that cause possible social harm based on stereotypical or discriminatory portrayals. Unlike some international bodies, which are not constrained by the First Amendment, NAD proposes to tether its review to such portrayals that may cause harm because they are misleading and inaccurate.…
In the wake murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the demonstrations that followed, brands pledged to support anti-racism and solidarity with the Black community. Some companies professed that they would make large donations to social justice organizations, leading commentators to ponder whether brands were “woke washing.” At the end of Black History Month, the National Advertising Division (“NAD”) announced that it investigated two companies making express claims committing to sizable charitable contributions to ensure that those claims were substantiated. See Niantic, Inc. (Advertising by Niantic Labs), Report #7037, NAD/CARU Case Reports (February 2022) and DoorDash, Inc. (Advertising by DoorDash, Inc.), Report #7036, NAD/CARU Case Reports (February 2022).
Continue Reading NAD Makes Clear that “Woke Washing” is False Advertising
The National Advertising Division, referred Pharmavite, LLC to the Federal Trade Commission after the company refused to comply with NAD’s recommendations that it discontinue its claim that its NatureMade Omega 3 Xtra Blend dietary supplement has “Nearly 4X Better Absorption* *than standard fish oil concentrate.”
To substantiate its “Nearly 4X Better Absorption” claim, Pharmavite relied on a study that compared the absorption of 630 mg and 1680 mg doses of EPA/DHA omega 3 fatty acids manufactured with and without a self-microemulsifying drug delivery system (SMEDS). The study determined that the absorption of EPA/DHA manufactured with SMEDS was better than the absorption rate of standard fish oil (manufactured without SMEDS) for the two doses of EPA/DHA. The study concluded that there was a 6.2 differential for a 630 mg dose and a 9.6 differential for a 1680 mg dose.
The DNR Tattoo
Last week, the Associated Press reported the fascinating story of an unconscious man admitted in acute distress to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. The words “Do Not Resuscitate” were tattooed across his upper chest, where one would see them before engaging in chest compressions. He carried no identification, so the medical staff could not reach his next of kin. A decision had to be made immediately, however: do we attempt to revive him?
If doctors took the tattoo at face value, the patient would die. If they rejected the literal words, reading ambiguity into it (perhaps it was merely the result of youthful indiscretion), he might live. The stakes could not have been higher. “We’ve always joked about this, but holy crap, this man actually did it,” said the attending ER physician. “You look at it, laugh a little, and then go: Oh no, I actually have to deal with this.” Fortunately, Jackson Memorial has an ethics team on call for these kinds of situations, and after swift consideration, they recommended that the doctors honor the man’s tattooed request — they allowed the man to die.
Apparently, this is not the first DNR tattoo story. An author in the Journal of Internal Medicine writes of a patient admitted to the hospital for serious surgery, who had the letters “D.N.R.” tattooed on his sternum. When interviewed as part of preoperative procedure, he indicated that he in fact did want to be resuscitated if he went into arrest during surgery, contrary to what was written on his chest. He explained that he acquired the DNR tattoo after losing a drunken poker bet. The author dryly remarks, “It was suggested that he consider tattoo removal to circumvent future confusion about his code status.” The patient declined, however, saying that “he did not think anyone would take his tattoo seriously…”
Can Advertisers Be Taken at Their Word?
The tattoo story has me thinking about its application to advertising. In our line of work, we are frequently confronted with ad copy that expressly says one thing, but arguably implies something else. Indeed, most comparative advertising disputes arise from this kind of situation. The advertiser has carefully crafted a claim, believing it to be truthful and well substantiated. A challenger argues that the literal words may be true, but that the claim also implies something different, and that the different implication is false. Very few sophisticated advertisers are careless or unscrupulous enough to communicate literally false claims. Arguing about implied claims is where the action is.
On August 1, 2017, the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council (ASRC) and Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) announced that Laura Brett has been appointed as director of the National Advertising Division (NAD). Ms. Brett has served as Acting Director of NAD since Andrea Levine, former Director of NAD, retired after 20 years as NAD Director. She joined NAD as a Staff Attorney in 2012 and was later an Assistant Director. Prior to joining NAD, Ms. Brett was a litigator at Willkie Farr & Gallagher and a solo practitioner. She was also a member of the Rye City Council and Deputy Mayor of Rye, NY.
At NAD, Ms. Brett has authored decisions in numerous cases challenging the adequacy of disclosures in native advertising formats, sponsored content, and other online and social media advertising issue. Before the FTC adopted its long-awaited native advertising guidance, Ms. Brett used the NAD’s self-monitoring authority to fill a regulatory gap and bring several challenges of native advertising. In her decisions, she pushed for improved disclosures and provided detailed guidance for companies engaged in novel forms of online advertising. She has not shied away from using NAD’ s authority to challenge the advertising practices of well-known tastemakers with large social media followings, challenging the Kardashians and Kate Hudson this year.