Published on December 21st, 2015 | by Bonnie Patten0
TINA.org’s Third Year In Review
This year, TINA.org filed four new complaints with the FTC and state attorneys general concerning deceptive marketing practices, three oppositions to unfair false advertising settlements in federal court and a brief in the Fifth Circuit urging the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision regarding pyramid schemes. TINA.org also participated in an FTC federal court case against a pyramid scheme prompted, in part, by our investigation. In addition, we followed-up on a complaint we filed last year resulting in a new warning letter to the company due to its noncompliance with state officials’ requests, urged the FTC to expand the scope of its e-cigarette industry review based on our investigation findings on e-cigarette marketing, and engaged in effective discussions with a CEO who didn’t like our publications exposing his company’s deceptive marketing.
As a result of these actions, we made the word’s largest retailer – Walmart – clean up its act regarding Made in the USA representations, prompted cosmetics giant Revlon to change its tagline for its Almay products, helped take down a pyramid scheme, prompted a national precious metals investment company to change its marketing, and influenced a number of class-action consumer settlements, to name just some of our notable achievements.
A record number of consumers reached out to TINA.org this year on social media and through reader submissions to alert us to deceptive marketing they encountered. With their help and our own eyes focusing on advertising that raised red flags, we posted 151 Ad Alerts and kept many other alerts updated with new information.
The top ten posts for 2015 based on page views were:
(*These posts also make our top ten all-time Ad Alert views list.)
From our continuing investigation of the e-cigarette industry to the introduction of our Is This an Ad? series focusing on sponsored content disguised as news stories, TINA.org reported on hundreds of advertising issues this year, publishing more than 150 stories and blogs investigating deceptive advertising in a wide variety of areas including the MLM industry, food, health, supplements and the financial industry. As part of our work, we published several databases, including one that cataloged misleading advertising in the e-cigarette industry — which included smoking cessation claims that the FDA then signaled it would review for possible regulatory action– as well as inappropriate health and income claims by Jeunesse, a Florida-based MLM. In addition, we published a database of outcomes of FTC pyramid scheme cases and a blog listing MLMs that readers indicated we should review. We also published a Freedom of Information Act study that explored which states disclose consumer complaints upon request and which states need to make them more accessible. And we continued our special investigation of Vemma Nutrition and the FTC’s federal court case against the company alleging it is a pyramid scheme.
The number of class actions alleging deceptive marketing and/or false advertising that we were tracking increased substantially in 2015. Trending this year in new complaints were:
- Products advertised as Made in USA when they really weren’t
- Advertised discounts that didn’t ring up
- Alcohol advertised as handmade when it really wasn’t
- All-natural products that contain synthetic ingredients
- Companies failing to adequately disclose the terms and conditions of automatic renewal offers
- Vehicles advertised as green, environmentally-friendly, and/or fuel efficient when they really weren’t
- Companies using slack-filled packaging to make consumers believe they were getting more product than they actually were
- And failing to disclose when products were made with slave labor
TINA.org continued its use of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Vine and Google ads to out deceptive marketing, educate consumers, and urge action against false advertising. We conducted three major search campaigns using Google ads to alert consumers to deceptive marketing issues with Jeunesse, Thrive, and Walmart. On Twitter, TINA.org launched 19 separate campaigns to inform consumers about our legal actions ranging from our complaint against Revlon for Almay’s Deceptive Made in the USA Claims to our objection of the Herbalife class-action settlement. In addition, TINA.org hijacked the #ONEJNS hashtag on Twitter in order to call attention to Jeunesse’s problematic health and income claims prior to the company’s North American convention. Eleven Facebook ad campaigns helped increase awareness on issues ranging from concerns about Starbucks coconut milk to Walmart’s deceptive Made in the USA claims.
We continued our Friday tradition of posting an ad that someone in the office liked. My personal favorite for 2015 is this one that ends with words that ring true for TINA.org — Strong alone. Unstoppable together.
The press and media reached out to TINA.org more than once a week in 2015 seeking our commentary and analysis of false and deceptive marketing practices. TINA.org was quoted and/or referenced in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Forbes, CNBC, Reuters, Fortune and Mother Jones, just to name a few. We were also called upon to brief a U.S. Senator about the status of state Made in the USA laws, and the impact a pending amendment to federal Made in the USA law would have on those laws. In addition, we made two trips to Washington, D.C. this year to educate Congressional house and senate staffers on the differences between legitimate MLMs and illegal pyramid schemes. And with the help of three pyramid scheme experts, TINA.org created a scam alert brochure that we have begun to distribute on college campuses across the nation.
Our impact in helping to eradicate deceptive marketing in 2015 can be positively measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars, while our gratitude to those that helped contribute to our success is infinite. Thank you! As the ad says, “Strong Alone. Unstoppable together.” We look forward to working with and for you in 2016.
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.
You know when you buy a big bag of chips, and you’re all psyched for a feast, and then it turns out there are like, three chips in the bag? That bag is slack filled.