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Truth in advertising might become reality

26th March 2009

Truth in advertising might become reality

posted in Personal |

My husband and I are quick on the remote whenever those annoying commercials for Weight Watchers or NutriSystem invade our TV, but sometimes we leave the remote be and instead play a game of “Who can read the 2-point fine print that flashes for scarcely a second at the bottom of the screen.” You know the copy — ‘Results not typical’ or ‘Remunerated (paid) spokesperson’ that let you know that these people are an aberration and that the probability of you losing the same amount of weight in the same time or getting the same slim tanned, toned body is about as likely as the Dow hitting 10,000 again any time soon. But now thanks to the Federal Trade Commission, Valerie Bertinelli and Marie Osmond might rightfully return to the distant realm of TV has-beens.  According to the Chicago Trib:

Updated guidelines on ad endorsements and testimonials under final review by the Federal Trade Commission—and widely expected to be adopted—would end marketers’ ability to talk up the extreme benefits of products while carrying disclaimers like “results not typical” or “individual results may vary.”

Instead, companies would be allowed to tout extreme results only if they also spelled out typical outcomes.

“For a good part of the last decade, we have noticed a problem, particularly with consumer testimonials,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “The use of consumer testimonials had become almost a safe harbor for companies as long as they threw in some sort of disclaimer about results not being typical.”

The FTC already targeted Jenny Craig a decade ago for making deceptive claims about the success of its weight-loss program. In a settlement agreement, the company was required to, amongst other requirements, include the caveats “For many dieters, weight loss is temporary,” and “This result is not typical. You may be less successful,” into its promotional materials. The proposed rules go even further, requiring Jenny Craig to show not a paid spokescelebrity boasting a 40-pound weight loss, but rather an average customer whose weight loss is most likely considerably less, if any. The rules would affect all forms of advertising and marketing, including blogs and company Web sites and the FTC could bring legal action against businesses that don’t comply.

As you can deduce, the proposed guidelines aren’t drawing any applause from advertisers.

The revisions have drawn sharp criticism from product manufacturers, advertising agencies and trade groups who say it is the “aspirational” theme of their ads that motivates consumers to purchase their goods. Show less than the ultimate achievement, they say, and consumers are less likely to buy.

One of the proposed guidelines are that bloggers who get free products and then endorse them on their blogs would have to make it clear they got the products free. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not accept advertising nor will I endorse products unless they reinforce the site’s goal of promoting healthy relationships with food and body (and believe me, I get tons of offers to review everything from body building shakes to granola bars promising an alternative to weight loss surgery — all on a site authored by a recovering anorexic). You can read more on my advertising policy here.

The final FTC guidelines are expected to be issued later this year. For more details on those requirements, see here.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 26th, 2009 at 1:45 am and is filed under Personal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 19 responses to “Truth in advertising might become reality”

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  1. 1 On March 26th, 2009, Godless Heathen said:

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

    However, I’d like to see the ads they come up with if they have to use real people, or at least typical results. If WW and Jenny can co-opt FA and HAES language, I believe they can be nimble enough to retool their ads. Tool might be the operative word as they abuse the spirit of the new guidelines of course.

    Next can we hold makeup accountable to the same standard and put an end to over-retouching these already beautiful models they use?

  2. 2 On March 26th, 2009, Tiana said:

    After the childhood obesity guidelines, I can hardly believe this. Even more good news? Am I dreaming?

  3. 3 On March 26th, 2009, Bree said:

    Years ago, Jenny Craig and NutriSystem used to use non-celebrities to sell their product. I can remember vividly a woman who went on NutriSystem and talked about how fat and digusting she was at a size 16. Another woman kept going on it after she gave birth to her kids to get back to her pre-baby weight. I’m guessing they didn’t make enough money using people who weren’t famous, so they started exclusively using celebrities.

    Anything that will force these weight-loss shillers to be more restrictive is a good thing IMO. And I also will not allow any advertising of this kind on my blog either. You have to have diet-free zones somewhere!

  4. 4 On March 26th, 2009, buttercup said:

    A headline on the comcast website this morning was “Bertinelli loses 50 lbs, puts on bikini.” I kid you not.

  5. 5 On March 26th, 2009, Tari said:

    Just reading that article reinforces my disgust for the whole practice of marketing – “if we can’t use deceptive practices and small print, how will we sell stuff?!!”

    I’m skeptical about seeing any real change, though. Sadly, marketing means boatloads of money for the people in positions to change this, and I’m not sure I buy “the good of the people” as a strong enough motivator. I hope that’s just my cynicism talking, though.

  6. 6 On March 26th, 2009, Alyssa (The 39 year-old) said:

    I saw that headline on Comcast this morning, too. Urgh!!! And, Tari, you put it perfectly: if advertisers can’t lie, they’re basically screwed. (Which, IMHO, is a good thing. Advertisers rely on us to feel rotten about ourselves so that we’ll buy their products.)
    According to an entertainment “news” show, Ms. Bertinelli has KEPT THE WEIGHT OFF FOR A WHOLE YEAR!!!!!!! Yeah. great. Let’s see what happens after 5 years. I went on Jenny Craig a few years ago. I could tell you about it, but we don’t have time for that particular rant.
    Let me just finish by saying I took part in a test group for a workout program once. I lost a couple of inches here and there, dropped a few pounds. I sent in my “before” and “after” pix and was politely told they were unusable because I didn’t have a big enough transformation.
    Yup.

  7. 7 On March 26th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Ha, I wonder if Valerie is STILL eating Jenny Craig food.

  8. 8 On March 26th, 2009, spoonfork said:

    I’ll gladly volunteer to be the After for the new WW campaign (cue maniacal laughter)!!

    Actually, my ‘success’ photos would be good, too–talk about haggard scary . . . “This could happen to you, and then in just a few short months to a year, you’ll gain it all back and more! But you get to keep your ED as a parting gift!”

    Results typical.

  9. 9 On March 26th, 2009, Diane said:

    Bertinelli is on the cover of People magazine now. You can see her ribs. VERY VERY bad. She seems like a nice person, but I just hope she goes away very soon. What a big headache…

  10. 10 On March 26th, 2009, Bree said:

    To go slightly OT, I was in the grocery store after work and saw the new In Touch magazine. Guess what? Jessica Simpson surprise, surprise, is on a diet and lost 10 lbs supposedly in two weeks. Of course, the magazine tells you how she did it (I didn’t look to see, but I’m sure the results would not be typical). I guess those rumors about a certain celebrity planning a comeback after a notorious weight gain were about her after all! Rachel, you should make this your next post.

  11. 11 On March 26th, 2009, Bethface said:

    I have a friend you uses Jenny Graig and Weight Watchers. Yes both! She follows both plans like a maniac. Don’t ask me how. I don’t understand the things. But she has been giving them money for two years and guess what She is still FAT. I keep telling her that they are a waste of money. They have her convinced that just one more month and then she will start to see results. Personally I think these kind of place should be illegal.

  12. 12 On March 26th, 2009, ItsTheWooo said:

    Problem with this is that average results do not predict or translate into individual maximum results.

    For example, say there is a music tutor in town… he has all the tools to help you become as good of a musician as you can be, but your results are only as good as your effort. If you skip sessions and don’t practice, you will never be a good musician. Most people will not stick with it and eventually stop going to sessions and practicing all together.

    Does this mean the tutor is ineffective? No. All it means is that most people are not committed to becoming musicians.

    But, yea, doing away with the stock diet advertising nonsense of “you can look like a model too if you eat these brownies and bowls of pasta as part of our plan”… that’s only a good thing. People need to lose weight and change eating habits because obesity is unhealthy, and the metabolic state which the symptom obesity comes from is even unhealthier. I would like commercials to be required to emphasize that weight loss requires a long term change of lifestyle and types/amounts of foods eaten, and that it is impossible for ANYONE with medical obesity to be transformed into a 20 something who obviously has no history of obesity.

    I’m not defending any of these programs, I think all of them are crap, but my point is that weight loss is possible if one has both the scientific knowledge of obesity as well as the commitment to lifestyle change required. Most people lack one or both of these things so that attemps at weight loss are futile.

    It is just as bad to make people think they can’t lose weight, simply because most people don’t lose weight. Most people don’t become piano players, but if one is dedicated to their craft one can be the best musician they can.

  13. 13 On March 26th, 2009, Rachel said:

    ItstheWooo — Again, please don’t make overarching assumptions about people based simply on what they weigh. There are plenty of obese people for whom weight does not parlay into any health issues. I understand you believe your weight is to blame for your own medical issues, but I ask that so long as you comment here, you respect the mission of the site, which is to promote healthy relationships with food and body at any (and every) size, as well as the fact that many readers here, including the blog author, struggle with eating disorders and/or disordered eating.

  14. 14 On March 27th, 2009, Caitlin said:

    People need to lose weight and change eating habits because obesity is unhealthy,

    People who? I’m obese and I have precisely zero health conditions because of my weight. If you feel you need to lose weight, fine, but you might want to keep your judgement of the masses to yourself.

    and the metabolic state which the symptom obesity comes from is even unhealthier.

    What does that even mean? What metabolic state? Are you saying all obese people have the same metabolism, and the thousands of potential genetic and environmental variations thereon are imaginary? Are you saying someone who’s e.g. 5’4″ and 175lbs (just over the borderline into “obesity”) has the same “metabolic state” as someone who’s 5’6″ and 350lbs? Since, you know, they’re both obese?

    I would like commercials to be required to emphasize that weight loss requires a long term change of lifestyle and types/amounts of foods eaten,

    And I’d like commercials to be required to emphasise that long-term weight loss is IMPOSSIBLE for almost everyone. But I somehow doubt they’ll put that much truth on tv.

  15. 15 On March 28th, 2009, Sara said:

    “The revisions have drawn sharp criticism from product manufacturers, advertising agencies and trade groups who say it is the “aspirational” theme of their ads that motivates consumers to purchase their goods. Show less than the ultimate achievement, they say, and consumers are less likely to buy.”

    Oh goodness. I can’t stop giggling. As a veteran of more diet plans than I care to count (WW among them) who’s recovering from various eating disorders, this is fantastic. “How are we ever going to sell our plans unless we dangle a near-impossible carrot in front of you?” Hee.

    Could we just show people of all sizes being active at something they like and doing it because they want to? What would happen if such companies were to emphasize getting stronger, faster, more flexible, more stamina, etc. instead of shrinking? I taught aerobics classes (tough ones, too) when I was “obese” and my cholesterol and blood pressure were always low. Come to think of it, I did the most damage to myself and my health on just those sorts of diets.

  16. 16 On March 31st, 2009, Mary H said:

    The large majority (no time to look it up) of people have identical metabolic ranges, regardless of size. An 80 pound person and an 800 pound person typically have the same metabolic measurements within the typical range. Not “normal” or “healthy” because a person can be an outlier with all the symptoms of, say hypothyroidism, but a lab result in the normal range which for her is too low for good health.

    This was, when discovered, naturally used against fat people – “aha! it’s NOT a slow metabolism, so it must be gluttony and sloth!” As if there weren’t a billion possible reasons why weight varies just as height, pigmentation and pretty much every other physical feature among humans. Or the obvious and simple one – genetics. Sure some people can gain or lose a lot of weight and stay that way through starvation or overeating. Some people can be born with birthmarks or holes in their bodies, but everyone else has to get tattooed or pierced.

    Population “quantitative” study measures are means, they say nothing about individuals and CAN’T – you need “qualitative” clinical case studies, the kind many shout down as unscientific But qualitative research can be just as scientific as quantitative, and not all quantitative “research” is scientific: consider polls for half a second and this is obvious. And importantly, quantitative CAN show individual results, but not population results. Except for very discrete populations, such as people with a very rare illness. Also, quantitative research following large groups of individual cases can be used with populations/conditions we can’t ethically research otherwise. Pregnancy is the most common, but experimental treatments for rare or especially deadly illnesses like brain or pancreatic cancer as well. You can’t take a group of people where there is no current treatment (pregnant women with psychosis are often left untreated by medicines commonly prescribed for pregnancy nausea) or a deadly condition and leave them without a choice to try the treatment or suffer. Ethically, you need to offer the treatment to everyone and let people choose (preferably before they become unable to choose by impaired thinking in psychosis or brain cancer) without pressure or interference to forgo it or risk it.

  17. 17 On April 2nd, 2009, Anonymous said:

    Mom Blogs – Blogs for Moms…

  18. 18 On August 7th, 2009, Steve C said:

    People who go onto these diets are buying the dream. Let ‘em buy. If it weren’t this, it would be something else. These are the same folks who buy gym memberships and never go and wonder why their body fat % is so high. I don’t see any problem showing someone who lost 100 lbs on a particular diet; it shows that it is possible and that it worked for THAT person. That’s not to say it will do that for you or me, but it might be possible.

    “Might be possible” is better than the average American’s 51 Twinkie/day diet. That’s a slight exaggeration.

    Personally, I never used one of these diets. When I want to trim weight, I avoid carbohydrates. I cut out as much sugar as possible. I don’t eat after 7 PM at night. I chew gum instead of eating. Simple stuff. It works.

  19. 19 On August 7th, 2009, Steve C said:

    By the way, I am VERY sympathetic to those who have difficulty losing weight, despite what I said about 51 Twinkies. There are a lot of people who struggle with weight loss… or whose struggle with body image issues expresses itself in anorexia and bulimia.

    What I’m getting at is… if you’ve subscribed to one of these diet plans, and you search your heart of hearts, you’ll almost certainly find “the dream” there. It’s really TOUGH. There isn’t one single solution. What the “Simple stuff” I speak of that “works”… that works FOR ME.

    I was a bit callous in that last post, and I don’t want to be dismissive of the weight problem.

    But really… truthfully… the main issue for all of us ought to be HEALTH, not weight. The weight thing is part of the “beauty myth.” To play into that is to fall into the abyss. There is no beauty that is beautiful enough to satisfy the beauty insecurity. But it does make sense when people want to lose a little bit of weight because they feel that they’d look better that way… clothing might fit better…. easier to get around without fatigue… etc. The obsession with weight loss is the sad product of a weight-centered beauty myth society.

    At the same time, I do believe in that there’s nothing wrong with the advertising. Personally… I’d LIKE to know that there’s someone who lost 100 lbs on a diet plan.! If someone else can’t understand that not everyone loses that weight… well… it’s not possible to tailor all advertising (or all communication) for those who don’t understand it.

    And the fact of the American diet being horrible is no individual’s fault. To be clear.

    If you’ve seen films like “Supersize Me,” you come to realize that the kind of advertising that is truly insidious is on the part of the food industry… and particularly fast food, sugar cereals and other sugary yum yums.

    Refined sugar is essentially the crack cocaine of sugar world. I don’t fault anyone his/her addiction to it.

    I have a problem with the way that diet plans are marketed, to some degree… to the degree to which I have problems with all “cure-all” anodynes. Drink this and you’ll be thin. Drink this and you’ll be beautiful. Young again. I have a much bigger problem with the way that food is marketed. And I have an even bigger problem with the way that “what it is to be a beautiful woman” is marketed.

    Women are led to believe that their bodies should look like coat hangers… the way that runway models look. Women are “supposed to” wear make up, shave, do skin care, hair care, go to expensive salons to take care of all these needs, buy expensive clothing to look good, etc. And that’s fine… if that’s what a woman really wants.

    I seriously doubt that most women would truly want that… in a void… without the emotional/spiritual corruption of a male-dominated “beauty”-obsessed society.

    All that said, again… I empathize with those who struggle with their weight… because we still live in the real world, and it’s rough.

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