TINA.org’s Eighth Year in Review

December 22nd, 2020

Despite the challenging times, TINA.org accomplished a great deal in 2020. Our team didn’t miss a beat as we transitioned to working from home in March, and quickly focused on dishonest companies seeking to take advantage of consumers during the pandemic. Our work made a difference and for that, we are grateful. Below is a summary of our accomplishments in 2020. (Click each title to see more.)

+ 30+ Legal Actions

This year, TINA.org pursued more than 30 legal actions, including complaints to federal, state and self-regulatory agencies; warning letters to companies; comments to federal regulators; and amicus curiae briefs.

TINA.org notified the FTC of 20 companies engaged in false or deceptive advertising, two of which were also the subject of TINA.org complaints to the FDA. We also filed complaints with state district attorneys against two other companies and complaints with the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC) against three MLM companies, and sent warning letters to two companies, both of which took immediate corrective measures. Of these 26 MLM companies, 16 of them were also making unsubstantiated COVID-related claims, either that their products could cure, prevent or kill the disease or that their business opportunities could provide a lucrative income during the pandemic’s economic turmoil, or both.

As a result of our legal efforts, TINA.org was able to stop several false and deceptive marketing campaigns in 2020: MLM Market America removed more than 750 deceptive income claims from publication; Everest Microbial Defense stopped making unsubstantiated claims that its hand sanitizer could kill the COVID-19 virus; the DSSRC issued five decisions based on TINA.org complaints resulting in hundreds of deceptive health and income claims being removed from the internet; music icon Rihanna’s online lingerie company Savage x Fenty made changes to its website to make its pricing and negative-option offer terms more clear; and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop removed deceptive claims that certain of its products have a therapeutic effect on several medical conditions. In July, the FTC acted on TINA.org’s petition and proposed a made in the USA labeling rule that would allow the agency to seek civil penalties against first-time offenders.

In addition, TINA.org filed three amicus curiae briefs with three different courts this year: one in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the FTC’s use of Section 13(b) of the FTC Act to obtain money unlawfully taken from consumers; one in the California Supreme Court (along with other consumer advocacy groups) in opposition to Sony’s use of a California statute to shield itself from liability for deceptively advertising that a posthumous Michael Jackson album contained nine new songs by the King of Pop when, in reality, three of them were sung by a copycat; and one in federal district court objecting to an unfair settlement agreement reached in a class action filed against the makers of Prevagen, a brain supplement.

TINA.org also filed three comments with federal regulators on ways they can improve consumer protection regulations – two with the FTC concerning made in the USA advertising and social medial influencer marketing, and one with the SEC concerning investment advisor marketing.

Here’s a roundup of TINA.org’s 2020 legal actions:

In addition to these actions, TINA.org submitted one complaint to the DSSRC that has not yet resulted in a public decision and thus has not been publicized by TINA.org, pursuant to the DSSRC’s request.

+ 90+ Ad Alerts

This year’s top ad alerts in terms of page views cover a lot of ground, from coronavirus scams (Nos. 6 and 10), to opportunistic bracelet sellers on the internet (Nos. 2 and 3), to unsupported “clinically shown” claims (Nos. 5 and 8), to deceptive made in the USA representations (No. 7).

Top 10 ad alerts published in 2020 (based on page views):

  1. Relief Factor
  2. Regrow Australia
  3. Treehuggers Bracelets
  4. Morphe Jaclyn Hill Eyeshadow Palette
  5. Nutrafol
  6. Pure Herbal Total Defense Immunity Blend
  7. New Balance
  8. Hair La Vie Clinical Formula Hair Vitamins
  9. Amazon Gift Card Offer
  10. Jim Bakker/Silver Solution

Nos. 1 and 8 are ad alert success stories in that they prompted changes to the company’s marketing. They weren’t the only ones. See our 2020 ad alerts on RiduZone, Pottery Barn Kids, Jacksonville Mom and BodyArmor, The Perfect Part, Lifetrients (formerly known as NourishLife), Kyäni distributor’s Facebook Live video, “FDA Approved Supplements” and B17.

+ 60+ Consumer News and Blog Posts

Top consumer news posts published in 2020 (based on page views):

  1. The Ugly Truth about Beautycounter
  2. Court Unseals Revealing Docs in LuLaRoe Pyramid Case
  3. A Growing List of Coronavirus Scams
  4. TINA.org Fact-Checks Joe Rogan’s Ads
  5. IV Therapies and COVID-19: The Drip, Drip, Drip of Deceptive Claims

TINA.org also took on Big Tech in 2020, publishing articles on how Amazon promotes and profits from deceptively marketing brain supplements and on how advertisers kept running ads on Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram despite making public statements that they were boycotting the platforms.

TINA.org also published more than a dozen blogs in 2020. The most-read blog concerned deceptive income claims in the MLM industry and advised how not to market your MLM business.

+ 450+ New False Advertising Class Actions

We tracked more than 450 federal class actions filed in 2020 alleging false advertising and/or deceptive marketing. Using this sampling, TINA.org’s CATrends feature highlighted new class-action trends involving hand sanitizers, “non-toxic” household cleaning products, charcoal toothpastes, loot boxes in video games, acetaminophen medications for infants, and ground coffee products.

Also trending this year were complaints alleging that:

  • Products don’t contain advertised ingredients (including vanilla, fruits, vegetables, alcohol and rawhide);
  • Financial institutions misrepresent when they charge overdraft fees;
  • Products advertised as “natural” contain unnatural ingredients;
  • Beverages marketed as low in sugar are not actually low in sugar;
  • Companies falsely advertise that animals are treated humanely;
  • Products marketed as environmentally-friendly, compostable and recyclable are not.

In addition, we reported on more than 400 class-action lawsuits related to the pandemic. Issues raised in these complaints include false advertising, failure to provide refunds, securities violations and privacy issues, among other things.

+ 175+ Press Mentions & Speaking Engagements

In 2020, TINA.org continued to be a go-to resource for members of the media looking for expertise and commentary on false and deceptive advertising. TINA.org was quoted or mentioned in a wide range of publications — from People and the Hollywood Reporter, to the New York Times and NPR — on a variety of topics including Goop’s deceptive wellness claims, virtual influencers, coronavirus scams, multilevel marketing and more. TINA.org Executive Director Bonnie Patten was also featured on The Dream podcast.

In addition, TINA.org staff presented our work at numerous conferences and meetings this year. Bonnie spoke to the payment processing industry at both the Merchant Acquirers’ Committee’s Level Up Conference in the spring, as well as at the Virtual RiskConnect Meeting in November. Bonnie was also a panelist at BBB National Program’s NAD 2020 Annual Meeting in the fall. Laura Smith, TINA.org’s legal director, detailed TINA.org’s investigation into deceptive marketing by cancer treatment centers at the ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) Annual Meeting in the summer. Bonnie also published a law review essay in the Administrative Law Review titled, “A Multilevel Marketing Company’s Battle to Survive an FTC Pyramid Scheme Action.”

+ Social Media & Advocacy Campaigns

We made use of Twitter, Google, Facebook and Instagram for numerous outreach and advocacy campaigns this year. We warned consumers about Savage x Fenty’s deceptive negative-option offer, informed followers about our work exposing virtual influencers and explained how MLMs use tricky math in income disclosure statements. We also used social media campaigns to share our videos on how the MLM industry has exploited the pandemic to promote deceptive health and income claims and how health marketers deceptively advertised IV therapy.
+ 52 Ads We Like

This year was one in which entertaining ads were a welcome diversion, and thankfully marketers did not disappoint. One favorite from 2020 was this ad – a great message that simultaneously brings a smile to your face. Yeet!

This year, more than ever, we are extremely grateful to all who contributed to TINA.org – supporting us financially, engaging with us on social media, sending in consumer tips, collaborating on projects and providing us with expertise. Thank you! We look forward to working with you in 2021 to keep ads honest.

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About the Author

Bonnie, executive director of TINA.org, is an attorney and mother of three. Her commitment to educating the public about deceptive marketing stems from her belief that education is the only viable way to effectively eradicate the market for false ads.



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