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Health Quackery: 10 Clear & Concise Misleading Ad Examples

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Sunday, June 25, 2023


There is no end to the lawless, wild, wild west of deceptive advertising for health products. Vulnerable people desperate to heal their ailment are preyed upon by unscrupulous, shameless, conscience-free swindlers and scammers. The FTC keeps fining and penalizing, but as soon as one con artist is exposed, five more sprout up to take their place. These charlatans provide no references to double-blind, randomized, clinical trials to support their claims, because there are none! No evidence is provided, only deceptive images and clever wording. In many cases, serious health risks are not disclosed. Below are ten examples from the US Federal Trade Commission. 

Weight Loss  

"A brochure for a weight-loss product shows images of doctors in white lab coats looking through microscopes, molecular structures, and a stack of medical journals.  These images give an impression of scientific legitimacy and likely convey an implied claim that the product has been clinically proven to be effective for weight loss."   

Heart Supplement 

"An ad for a vitamin supplement claims that 90% of cardiologists regularly take the product.  In addition to the express claim about the percentage of cardiologists who use the product, the ad likely conveys an implied claim that the product offers some benefit for the heart." 

Infant Formula 

"An ad for an infant formula states that an ingredient added to the formula can reduce the symptoms of colic.  The ad includes an unrelated chart from a pediatric journal showing that, as a general principle, the length of time that colicky babies cry tends to decrease over the first 12 weeks of life.  The graph has nothing to do with the effect of the infant formula on crying; it merely shows that crying decreases as a function of age.  Using the graph in an ad for the infant formula likely implies that the formula, rather than the babies’ ages, causes the decrease in crying time." 


"An ad for a topical ointment called Arthricure claims that the product 'maintains joint health and mobility' into old age.  A 'before' picture shows an elderly woman using a walker.  An 'after' picture shows her dancing with her husband.  Even without the product name, which implies the product can cure arthritis, the before-and-after images, along with the references to joint health and mobility, likely convey a claim that the product can dramatically improve the symptoms of arthritis."   

Mineral Deficiency 

"An ad for a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement claims that the product can eliminate a specific mineral deficiency that results in feelings of fatigueIn fact, less than 2% of the general population to which the ad is targeted suffer from this deficiency. The advertiser should limit the claim so that consumers understand that only a small percentage of people who suffer from the actual mineral deficiency are likely to experience any reduction in fatigue from using the product." 

Herbs for Pain 

"An ad for an herbal product claims it is a natural pain remedy 'without the side effects of over-the-counter pain relievers.' However, there is substantial evidence that the product can cause nausea in some consumers when taken regularly.  Because of the reference to the side effects of other pain relievers, consumers would likely understand this ad to mean that the herbal product poses no risk of significant side effects.  The advertiser should disclose information about the side effects of the herbal product."


Energy Drink 

"An energy drink contains an ingredient that, when consumed daily over an extended period, can result in a significant increase in blood pressure.  Even absent any representation about the product’s safety, the marketer should disclose this potentially serious risk." 

Sleep Aid  

"A botanical supplement is marketed as an all-natural sleep aid for 'when life’s stresses get you down or you are just too anxious to fall asleep.'  Although the botanical supplement doesn’t present any safety risk when used alone, the active compounds in the product use the same metabolic pathway as common prescription medications for anxiety and depression, interfering with the efficacy of those medications.  This potential interaction should be disclosed." 

Nasal Strips and Sleep Apnea 

"A magazine ad for nasal strips claims that nightly application will reduce the sound of snoring.  The advertiser has competent and reliable scientific evidence that the strips substantially reduce the sound of snoring but not that they treat sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition for which snoring is a primary symptom.  The ad would be deceptive if it fails to adequately disclose that the nasal strips aren’t intended to treat sleep apnea.  A fine print disclosure of this fact at the bottom of the ad wouldn’t be clear and conspicuous.  A disclosure immediately next to the snoring claim in the same font size as the claim and in black print on a white background is much more likely to be effective at eliminating the deception." 

False Claims of Scientific Support 

"An ad for a supplement includes the statement 'Scientists Now Agree!' in discussing the product’s benefit.  This statement likely conveys to consumers that the state of science supporting the benefit has reached the level of scientific consensus.  Unless the advertiser possesses evidence demonstrating that scientists have reached that consensus, the claim is false.  

"An advertiser claims that its product is based on 'Nobel Prize-Winning' research and has been 'proven effective' by '$5 million in NIH Research.' The Nobel Prize referred to in the ad, however, was for an unrelated use of the product’s active ingredient and has nothing to do with the claimed health benefits.  In addition, the NIH research examined the safety, but not the efficacy, of the active ingredient.  The specific claims about the level of support are deceptive even if the advertiser possesses other research that provides competent and reliable scientific evidence of efficacy." 

Source                                                                                                                                     Products Compliance Guidance                                                https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/resources/health-products-compliance-guidance 

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Photo: https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/06/style/hong-kong-rubber-duck-florentijn-hofman/index.html 

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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