TINA.org’s Seventh Year in Review
December 17th, 2019
There can be no doubt that TINA.org has become a force to be reckoned with. As a result, what we do and what we say are closely followed by consumers, marketers, state and federal enforcement agencies, politicians and the press, among others. Below is a summary of our accomplishments in 2019. (Click each title to see more.)
This year, TINA.org filed more than a dozen legal actions against more than 30 companies and individuals, with five complaints to the FTC; three filed with the FDA; one complaint to state district attorneys; five complaints filed with the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC); and one warning letter sent to an auto company, which took immediate corrective measures. TINA.org also filed a petition for rulemaking with the FTC, as well as three comments to the agency on ways it can improve consumer protection regulations.
As a result of our legal efforts, TINA.org was able to stop several false and deceptive marketing campaigns in 2019: Mercedes-Benz discontinued its deceptive built in the USA marketing campaign for its Sprinter van; the California Food, Drug and Medical Device Task Force entered into a stipulated judgment with MyPillow requiring it to pay $100,000 in civil penalties and refrain from referring to unreliable scientific studies in its marketing materials; Williams-Sonoma discontinued its made in the USA marketing for hundreds of imported or partially-imported products sold across its Pottery Barn, PBteen, Pottery Barn Kids, Rejuvenation, West Elm, Williams-Sonoma and Williams-Sonoma Home websites; Snow Teeth Whitening removed the FDA logo from its product packaging, as well as claims in its marketing materials that its products are FDA approved; and the DSSRC issued a decision informing MLM company Team National that it must cease making atypical earnings representations in its marketing without clearly and conspicuously disclosing what distributors can generally expect to earn.
Here is a roundup of TINA.org’s 2019 legal actions:
*In addition to these actions, TINA.org submitted four complaints to the DSSRC that have not yet resulted in public decisions and thus have not yet been publicized by TINA.org, pursuant to the DSSRC’s request.
This year’s top ad alerts in terms of page views run the gamut from promises of financial miracles from a longtime swindler (Peter Popoff’s “miracle spring water”), to misleading mailings designed to look like they come from the government or a financial institution (Personnel Concepts and Reliant Funding, respectively), to a skin cream deceptively marketed by a “lifestyle expert” that is also a paid spokeswoman for the brand (Plexaderm). Not to mention two streaming services that TINA.org looked into after receiving consumer complaints (CBS All Access and FloSports) and a sleep study that was a real snoozer (MyPillow).
Top 10 ad alerts published in 2019 (based on page views):
- Peter Popoff’s “Miracle Spring Water”
- Reviva Brain
- The Fox Tan
- CBS All Access on Amazon Prime
- Reliant Funding
- MyPillow Sleep Study
- Bud Light: “Brewed with no Corn Syrup”
- FloSports, FloWrestling
- Personnel Concepts
Top consumer news posts published in 2019 (based on page views):
- TINA’s Take: Nerium’s Move to Disappear and Reinvent Itself as Neora
- What You Should Know about New U Life
- LuLaRoe Distributors in Bankruptcy as Founder Touts Financial Freedom
- FTC Sues Neora Alleging It Was a Pyramid from the Start
- Mercedes Slams the Brakes on Built in USA Claims after TINA.org Inquiry
Nos. 1 and 4 on this list of most-read consumer news posts on TINA.org in 2019 shows how TINA.org has become a harbinger of things to come in the multilevel marketing industry. Eleven months before the FTC sued Neora, TINA.org was sounding the alarm that the company was attempting to “escape a checkered past,” calling out what then-Nerium portrayed as “a bold rebranding and reinvention.”
This list also attests to TINA.org’s efforts to eradicate deceptive made in the USA marketing and how companies respond.
We tracked more than 400 federal class actions filed in 2019 alleging false advertising and/or deceptive marketing. Using this sampling, TINA.org introduced a new feature this year that we referred to as CATrends, which highlighted new class-action trends involving rapid release medications, portable chargers (aka power banks), alkaline waters, graham crackers, “Dolphin Safe” tuna, vanilla ice creams and “anti stain” and “anti mark” antiperspirants.
Also trending this year were complaints alleging:
- Companies failing to adequately disclose the terms of subscriptions
- Advertised discounts that didn’t add up
- Financial institutions misrepresenting when overdraft fees would be charged
- Products marketed as made with “real cocoa” that actually contain processed cocoa
- Companies falsely claiming that animals were treated humanely
- “Natural” products containing unnatural ingredients
- Vehicle infotainment systems that don’t work as advertised
- White chocolate products that don’t contain any white chocolate
Members of the media reach out regularly to TINA.org for information, education and commentary on breaking news about false and deceptive advertising. In 2019, TINA.org’s work was featured in publications ranging from the New York Times and Vox to BuzzFeed News and Wired. Bonnie Patten, TINA.org’s executive director, also made appearances on ABC, NBC and BBC Panorama, as well as on NPR, to provide insight on problematic marketing practices.
In October, Bonnie was honored with the Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award by the National Consumers League for TINA.org’s work in keeping ads honest.
TINA.org worked to fulfill our educational mission again this year by presenting our work to a variety of audiences. Bonnie Patten spoke about TINA.org’s work examining deceptive health claims at The Banbury Center’s meeting on “ Reconceptualizing the Challenges of Direct-to-Consumer Health Products.” Laura Smith, TINA.org’s legal director, joined U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal on several occasions to warn consumers about social media influencer marketing that deceptively targets teens (detox teas) and children (kidfluencers), as well as urge regulators to take action.
TINA.org also advised members of congress who contacted us regarding two pieces of pending legislation: one concerning negative option offers and another regarding the advertising of telecom fees.
In our ongoing consumer outreach efforts, TINA.org continued to expand its presence on social media in 2019, engaging with consumers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We took to social media to spread awareness on everything from New U Life’s shady hGH claims and the FTC’s lawsuit against Neora to MyPillow’s use of a dubious “clinical sleep study” to promote its pillows. Consumers were also alerted to our experience ordering Peter Popoff’s “miracle spring water,” as well as our investigation into LuLaRoe distributor bankruptcies.
It’s fun to start every Friday morning by viewing TINA.org’s Ad We Like and trying to match the ad to the person in the office who selected it. Our favorite for 2019 was this one – go Bruins!!!
Our work continues to be impactful and meaningful in protecting consumers and businesses alike from false and deceptive advertising. TINA.org is incredibly grateful for the contributions that our friends and colleagues provide us. We look forward to working with you in 2020 to keep ads honest!
Multi-Level Marketing – a way of distributing products or services in which the distributors earn income from their own retail sales and from retail sales made by their direct and indirect recruits.