FTC on CVS: Guilt by association


The FTC had already acted on what it said were unproven claims by Airborne Health Inc. about the effectiveness of one of its products. Now pharmacy CVS will have a lighter wallet – seven figures lighter – for marketing a knock-off it said was just as good as the Airborne Health product.

The CVS product is AirShield ‘Immune Boosting’ Supplement. The FTC said, “Just in time for back-to-school and cold season, national retailer CVS Pharmacy, Inc. will stop making misleading claims that its “AirShield” dietary supplements can prevent colds, fight germs, and boost immune systems.” As  part of the settlement, CVS will come up with $2.78M to be used for customer restitution.

Airborne was widely advertised, and CVS latched right on, saying its product was similar in its own marketing operations.

“Like Airborne Health, Inc., the FTC charges CVS with making false and deceptive advertising claims that using its product would reduce the risk of colds and protect against catching colds in crowded places, such as schools, airplanes, offices, health clubs, theaters, or restaurants,” wrote FTC. “The FTC alleges that the company had no evidence that the products could boost the immune system or prevent colds. A settlement with Rite Aid Corporation regarding similar claims for its “Germ Defense” products was announced on July 13, 2009, and a Rite Aid consumer refund program will begin on October 1.”

RBR/TVBR observation: Imitation stops being the sincerest form of flattery when something like this happens. Claims made about over the counter remedies and dietary supplements are among the FTC’s pet peeves, at the expense of poorer retailers and manufacturers.

Although broadcasters are always asked to be on the alert for false claims, even when they are well-intentioned, the good news is that at the same time broadcasters cannot be expected to have expertise in many product categories and therefore cannot be expected to effectively keep such claims off the air.

But the more you know about the types of marketing statements that could cause trouble, the better for your audience, and your advertisers. You’ll be doing the latter a favor if you can help steer them clear of FTC enforcement, which as CVS knows can get very pricy.