As part of its ongoing efforts to stop over-hyped ad claims, the Federal Trade Commission has filed false advertising charges against the marketers of Your Baby Can Read! – a program that was widely touted in infomercials and on the Internet. The program uses videos, flash cards, and pop-up books that supposedly teach children as young as nine months old how to read. Two of the three defendants in the case have agreed to settle with the FTC.
One 30-minute television infomercial featured a home video of a two-year-old girl who used the program and is purportedly reading a page from the children’s book Charlotte’s Web. The girl’s mother then appears, saying that when her daughter was three years old, “she read her first Harry Potter book and she fell in love with it.”
According to the complaint, the defendants failed to provide reliable scientific evidence that babies can learn to read using the Your Baby Can Read! program, or that children at age three or four can learn to read books such as Charlotte’s Web or Harry Potter.
The defendants marketed the program on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, and television infomercials and ads on network and cable stations such as Lifetime, Discovery Kids, Disney DX, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon. It also was available for purchase online at Amazon.com and BabiesRUs.com, as well as, at retail stores nationwide, including Wal-Mart, Kmart, Walgreens, Buy Buy Baby, Toys “R” Us, and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
The FTC complaint charges Your Baby Can, LLC, its former CEO, and the product’s creator with false and deceptive advertising, for claims in ads and product packaging that the program could teach infants and toddlers to read and that scientific studies proved the claims. The complaint also charges company principal and product creator Robert Titzer, Ph.D, with making deceptive expert endorsements. Your Baby Can and Titzer represented that the program taught children as young as nine months old to read; gave children an early start on academic learning, making them more successful in life than those who didn’t use it; and that scientific studies proved these claims, according to the complaint.
In addition to Titzer and Your Baby Can, the complaint names as a defendant Hugh Penton, Jr., who served as president and chief executive officer of the company until March 2010.
Penton and Your Baby Can have agreed to settle the FTC’s charges. The agency is initiating litigation against Titzer in federal court.
The settlement prohibits the Carlsbad, CA-based defendants from further use of the term “Your Baby Can Read.” The settlement also imposes a $185 million judgment, which equals the company’s gross sales since January 2008. Upon Your Baby Can’s payment of $500,000, the remainder of the judgment will be suspended due to the company’s failing financial condition.
Your Baby Can has represented that it is going out of business. If it is later determined that the financial information the company gave the FTC was false, the full amount of the judgment will become due.
Also according to the complaint, the defendants sold the Your Baby Can Read! program to parents and grandparents of children aged three months to five years since at least January 2008, charging about $200 for each kit and taking in more than $185 million, directly via a toll-free number and their own websites.
The settlement order against Penton and Your Baby Can LLC prohibits them from misrepresenting the benefits, performance, or efficacy of any product or service for teaching reading or speech, or enhancing language ability, cognitiveability, school performance, or brain development. They also are barred under the settlement from misrepresenting that scientific support exists for such assertions.