FTC Offers Five Lessons about Supplements Ads During CRN’s The Conference

Palm Springs, CA—Mary K. Engle, associate director for advertising practices in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), gave supplements marketers a bit more insight into FTC’s current thinking on advertising at the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s The Conference. Engle offered industry members five take-home points to consider about dietary supplements advertising:

1. FTC supports the False Labeling Act. Engle noted that while FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FTC) have two different jobs and are separate entities, the two agencies are in close communication regularly, often with daily phone calls regarding proper claims and advertising. Like FDA, FTC restricts companies from saying that supplements, foods and beverages can cure, treat or prevent disease in the name of consumer protection. This not only includes products available at retail, but also direct-to-consumer items, telemarketed good, mail-order products and more.
2. FTC looks at the overall impression of ads. 
Even if a supplement manufacturer does not specifically state a disease claim in writing, FTC may become concerned if consumers could walk away with the idea that the supplement cures, treats or prevents a disease. FTC may even conduct consumer testing to gauge shoppers’ impressions of the ad, and the advertiser may not be notified that such an investigation is underway. Engle added that disclosures and disclaimers in fine print are insufficient. Prominent, clear and accurate disclosures should always be used.
3. Health-related claims must have reasonable basis in science. The type of substantiation depends on the level of claim being made. But, FTC says firms should have reliable research before making any reasonable health claim. For instance, results should be statistically significant, trials should be well-designed and responsibly conducted by experts, and proper endpoints should be measured. 

4. RCTs are preferred. Engle reiterated the FTC’s preference for randomized controlled trials, though a specific number of trials is not set in stone.
5. FTC actions can be valuable to others. While FTC actions are only legally binding to the parties involved, they can serve as good guidance to other industry members. Engle added that weight loss claims is a topic that FTC spends a lot of effort on, and is also seeing more memory claims that are not permissible.

Engle made it clear that science reigns king when companies decide how to market their products. “Tailor your claims to what your science shows,” she stated.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2015 (online 10/22/15)