How far can a company go in making claims about their product’s benefits in order to sell it? In the case of POM Wonderful, the Federal Trade Commission upheld a judge’s ruling that the claims their juices can treat heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and strokes as it “cheats death,” is going too far.
Cases like these are neither few nor far between, as a cottage industry has sprung up around the premise that companies should be held accountable for marketing terms such as “natural,” “helps lower cholesterol” or “fresh.” POM’s case, however, goes up against the FTC itself, not an individual, and could therefore lead to changes in how many other food and drink makers are able to market their products.
The ads in question appeared in such national publications as The New York Times, Prevention, Fitness, Parade, and billboards, bus stops and online. From an advertising standpoint, they’re genius, but to the FTC, they needed to be reined in. Crisp, simply designed photographs of pomegranate juice proclaim, “Ace your EKG – a glass a day can reduce plaque by 30%,” “More naturally occurring antioxidants than any other drink,” and a cartoon of a bottle of POM exclaiming, “I’m off to save prostates!”
POM Wonderful disagreed. “This order ignores what $35 million of peer-reviewed scientific research, centuries of traditional medicine and plain common sense have taught us: antioxidant-rich pomegranate products are good for you,” they wrote in a press release.
The FTC ruled that POM’s $35 million dollars worth of scientific research are not enough to make claims such as the ones found in their advertising. Their complaint? POM funded the studies themselves. They ordered at least two controlled clinical, peer-reviewed studies, the gold standard of scientific research, to be cited if the drink maker wants to make claims about their product.
Some, like writer Bruce Goldman with Examiner.com, believe the commission overstepped its bounds in the ruling.
“For over two years, the Federal Trade Commission and POM Wonderful LLC have been locked in legal battle over who was overreaching – POM in making health claims in its advertising or the FTC in exercising authority it doesn’t have. Yesterday, the full Federal Trade Commission declared the winner was…the Federal Trade Commission,” Goldman wrote.
Conflict of interest it may be, POM is barred from making any more health claims intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. They have 60 days to appeal the ruling, so this may not be the last we hear of this case.
Freedom of speech should be protected, and consumers cannot act as if they are lost sheep with no resources before them to understand whether a product will deliver promises or potentially harm them. But in this case, POM’s claims may come across as too outlandish. They have a good product, but let it speak for itself without making unsubstantiated claims.