QVC aired a series of advertisements for For Women Only weight loss supplements, Lite Bites food bars and shakes, and Bee-Alive Royal Jelly energy supplements – as well an anti-cellulite skin cream. The infomercials were the subject of a complaint in 2004, as they made unsubstantiated claims of significant weight loss, weight loss maintenance, carb and fat blocking, fatigue reduction, and a reduction in the girth of arms and legs. Around 200 programmes aired altogether.
The reimbursements, in the form of refund checks valid for 60 days, are costing QVC a total of $6m – in addition to the $1.5m it was slapped with as a civil penalty.
“QVC aired ads that weren’t true and violated an FTC order,” said Eileen Harrington, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said when the settlement was agreed in March 2009. “Simply put, we aren’t going to let QVC get away with this. The company is responsible for the product claims made on its programs, and we expect that going forward, QVC will do a better job for its audience and make sure that its programs are truthful and not deceptive.”
QVC allegedly violated a 2000 FTC order which barred it from making deceptive claims for dietary supplements.
QVC is not the first to pay the price of misleading ads – and as the FTC believes the mainstream media is still rife with unacceptable claims it is unlikely to be the last.
In January a Connecticut district court judge ruled Bronson Partners and its officer, Martin Howard, had made “obvious and widespread” claims breaches about its products and must assist the FTC identify wronged consumers to be paid compensation in addition to the payment of $1,942,325 plus statutory interest.
Identifying false weight loss claims is serious business for the FTC, which targets them under its red flag campaign.
While responsible companies conduct research into the effects of their products and ingredients, inflated and false claims can damage the entire weight loss industry – and consumers’ health.
- Claims that the FTC deems to be bogus include:
- Causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise;
- Causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats;
- Causes permanent weight loss (even when the consumer stops using product);
- Blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight;
- Safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks;
- Causes substantial weight loss for all users;
- Causes substantial weight loss by wearing it on the body or rubbing it into the skin
In reality, weight loss is very complex and effective action usually requires a combination of approaches, including health eating and increased physical activity.