Friday, October 30, 2009

The Truth Lies in the Advertising

A couple weeks back I read about many people lamenting the new FTC rules regarding disclosure on blogs. For those in the publishing industry, this may have a big impact on book reviewers who have received a free copy of a book, agents promoting their clients' works, etc.

Today I saw a great example of why this rule is needed, although I agree that it was implemented on too broad a manner.

It started with this news article. The article itself has nothing to do with this blog post, other than the fact that it's a starting point. When I got to the end of it I read "Acai Berry Side Effects: In Our Shocking Special Report We Investigate Acai Berry" and I clicked on the link, curious. I'll sum it up, but you should really read the whole thing yourself. And then make sure you read the end of this post.

The Investigative Special Report starts like this:
"Bloggers around the country are raving about the weight loss benefits of Acai. We put their claims to the test in our Exclusive Report"

I thought it would be interesting to read the report. Maybe someone actually did some sort of reputable test. I read on, eager to see what it said. It said this:

we here at the station are a little skeptical and aren't sure that we've seen any real proof that these pills work for weight loss. So we decided to put these products to the test. What better way to find out the truth than to conduct our own study? To get started, I volunteered to be the guinea pig."

The article then goes into full infomercial mode. And wouldn't you know it, the intrepid writer actually "Lost 25lbs in 4 Weeks, No Special Diet, No Intense Exercise"

Then there were comments at the bottom. Guess what? Each commentor was a) excited to try it, b) able to talk about success from a family member that tried it, or c) promoting their own success story, often involving feeling GREAT in just minutes. I would have loved to leave comment of my own, but wouldn't you know it, the comments were closed.

And then I read the fine print, which I will post for your here, but in a larger font and with emphasis added...


It is important to note that this site and the stories depicted above is to be used as an illustrative example of what some individuals have achieved with this/these products. This website, and any page on the website, is based loosely off a true story, but has been modified in multiple ways including, but not limited to: the story, the photos, and the comments. Thus, this blog, and any page on this website, are not to be taken literally or as a non-fiction story.

This page receives compensation for clicks on or purchase of products featured on this site.


Vodka Mom said...

oh my God.

(Pssst. Pass me some Acai crap.)

Rick Daley said...

We do drink Acai juice here...a couple ounces every morning. I look at it as a very expensive vitamin. Plus I drink copious amounts of red wine for added anti-oxidants. Better safe than sober. I mean sorry. Better safe than sorry.

Laurel said...

Hee, hee. We drink red wine for "health benefits" as well. It's good for the circulation. Especially if it makes you a bit randy ;)

Seriously, though, it flies all over me that the federal government considers the governed to be too friggin' stoopid to use some common sense. Ultimately, we elect the people that make these decisions or appoint the people that make these decisions. If we are really that dumb, what does that say about the elected?

Donna Hole said...

Thanks Rick. I had wondered why some of my favorite blogs had the FTC disclaimer on them.

Laurel: I have to disagree with you. In my day job, too many of my clients read only the portion of the notices they agree with. It's good that you read an entire advertisement, and not just the flashy print and promises.


Scott said...

Advertisers have been using this technique for years, trying to pass their ads off as journalism. Some are more sneaky about it than others, which would make the product they're trying to sell very questionable in my mind.

The more disturbing trend, I think, is for real media outlets doing free PR and passing it off as "news." My local paper, for example, profiles a business every edition. This is really just free advertising, there's no real news value to it.

Rick Daley said...

Now if they could just start enforcing disclaimers on bullshit emails, especially come election time, we'll be all set.

Crimey said...

As someone who formally worked in marketing, I am very sensitive to advertising. Probably to the point that I dismiss most ads whether online, billboard, or the television as some degree of lying.

This sort of reminds me of all the movies that claim to be based on a true story, but when you do ten seconds of research you find out it actually isn't based on a true story at all. I group most advertisement, movies etc in the fictional catagory.

lifeissweet16 said...

Sometimes I wonder if it's really worth protecting stupid or delusional people from themselves.

People who believe they can lose 25 pounds in four weeks without cutting calories or exercising (and even then, you pretty much have to be anorexic or on The Biggest Loser to attain that) either really, really WANT to believe it or are just incredibly gullible and maybe need to learn the hard way to do real research and use a healthy amount of skepticism.

lifeissweet16 said...

Sorry to double post, but I just read through the rest of the comments and wanted to repond, as a former community journalist/copy editor/assistant editor, to this:

"My local paper, for example, profiles a business every edition. This is really just free advertising, there's no real news value to it."

I worked for two different newspapers so I can give you two perspectives on this one.

The first newspaper I worked for was run for 100-plus years by the same family who really knew nothing about journalism. We only profiled businesses that advertised with us, and usually at the business' request. The journalists working at the paper did NOT agree with this practice, but we had to do what the person who signed our checks told us to do. We did NOT, however, publish anything we knew or discovered to be untrue. However, this practice also served to promote local businesses in the community and keep local employers in business.

Which brings me to newspaper number 2. This paper was also family-owned, but was a bigger company and employed people outside the family to run their papers.

The practice at this newspaper was to profile only new businesses, regardless of whether they advertised with the newspaper. It was to help get the word out and give these struggling new businesses in the community a chance to make it. Some did. Some didn't.

In both cases, though, it was really a matter of just letting the community know, "Hey. These people who live here and work here and employ your neighbors are here. Check them out."

Yes, it's free PR, but it's also somewhat of a community service.

Rick Daley said...

I think there are enough people who take these ads at face value to keep the advertisers using gimmicks like this.

It bugs me, though. "This is based off a true story, except the story has been modified to make it untrue."

Rick Daley said...

In regard tot he newspapers writing about businesses, I think that's fine as long as it is fact-checked and not just a free brochure.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when I was watching The View and Barbara Walters mentioned some ad was using her picture claiming she endorsed the producted(which she doesn't) and she had asked the company nicely to stop using her picture for the ads. Since I havn't really looked for the ad's myself I don't know if the company ever stopped using her picture. But I surppose they might have since she made the statement in The View and she is wealthy enough to be able to hire a really good lawyer to sue the company useing her picture.
Every once in a while on yahoo or google I will see a ad which states Hugh Downs is claming what they are selling works.
I wonder if next when John Stossel retires from 20/20 if they will use his picture in there ads.

lifeissweet16 said...

Acai has also used Oprah and I think Dr. Phil, saying they endorse it and actually use it. Both have said that's a lie. I haven't seen that claim in a while.

As for people believing it, well, call me a cynic, but there are a lot of dumb people in the world. Unfortunately. Although I think some believe it not because they're dumb but because they want to. They don't want to have to actually work hard to lose weight or make money or whatever. They just want it quick and easy, so it makes them feel good to believe in these things.

As an example, I had a friend who sent me that e-mail that says AOL will send money for forwardsing the e-mail. She sent it to me weekly for a year.

Rick Daley said...

Acai has been on a roll for the past few years. It does have a high level of anti-oxidants, and many have used this to claim extraordinary health benefits but there is no scientific research to support this. A lot of YouTube testimonials and blog posts, though.

One Acai company, Mona Vie (that's French for "this bottle of juice costs $35") has links to scientific research it paid for, but if you actually read it, which I'm sure most people don't, you'll find that the only conclusion was that in 80% of the subjects, drinking the juice led to an increase in anti-oxidants in their blood. It says nothing about the benefits of having an increase of anti-oxidants in your blood, and it also DIDN'T elevate the anti-oxidant levels for 20% of the test subjects. I'm about a year out from reading that, so maybe they've updated it...

lifeissweet16 said...

I'm sure Acai is healthy. All fruit is. Many fruits increase antioxidants (including tomatoes, especially cooked). But the weight loss claims are outrageous. A lot of people fall for it, though.

I've heard of Mona Vie. I think someone tried to push it on me once. I don't go for any of those "multi-level marketing" things, no matter what they are.

Have I mentioned I'm a bit of a cynic? ;-)

Rick Daley said...

Cynicism is also healthy ;-)