National Advertising Division Recommends Smile Prep Modify or Discontinue Claims and Disclosures on its Website; Smile Prep to Appeal
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New York, NY – December 21, 2022 – While the National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs has determined that Smile Prep, LLC provided a reasonable basis for implied claims that it does not primarily solicit reviews from customers of its affiliate partners and that its reviews reflect the real experiences of legitimate clear aligner consumers; the advertising watchdog also recommended that Smile Prep modify or discontinue several other claims and disclosures on its rankings and reviews website.
NAD recommended that Smile Prep:
- Disclose that reviews are incentivized.
- Modify or discontinue certain claims regarding the analysis and ranking criteria used by Smile Prep.
- Discontinue certain express comparative, efficacy, and performance claims about the product and services of Smile Prep’s affiliate partners.
- Avoid conveying the message that Smile Prep does not give preferential treatment to its affiliate partners.
- Avoid conveying that its rankings, reviews, and product information are objective (i.e., impartial) and free from bias.
- Clearly and conspicuously disclose that Smile Prep’s rankings, reviews, and product information of the clear aligners of its affiliate partners are advertising.
The claims were challenged by SmileDirectClub LLC (SDC), a provider of clear aligner products and services. The SmilePrep.com website includes reviews and rankings of SDC’s products and services as compared to SDC’s competitors, as well as consumer reviews.
The challenged claims appeared on SmilePrep.com, which presents its reviews and ranking of clear aligner companies and their products and services as editorial content. Smile Prep, which has affiliate relationships with several companies whose clear aligner products and services it reviews, also solicits and posts clear aligner reviews from consumers on SmilePrep.com, its Facebook page, and its YouTube channel.
To protect consumers, online publishers of third-party product reviews and rankings with affiliate links must have controls in place to keep individuals who write product content segregated from the influence of affiliate link revenue. If such controls are not in place, the content can be influenced by knowledge of payment, rendering it advertising.
Clear Aligner Rankings and Reviews Claims
NAD recommended that Smile Prep discontinue or modify its claim that rankings on Smile Prep are based on an “extensive five-point analysis of each company’s effectiveness, affordability, convenience, appearance and customer support” because no evidence was provided to support the claim.
SDC also argued that Smile Prep’s website conveys to consumers that the clear aligner information, rankings, and reviews it provides are impartial and that Smile Prep does not give preferential treatment in its reviews and rankings to those clear aligner companies that pay Smile Prep commissions through affiliate links.
NAD found no grounds on which to conclude that Smile Prep’s rankings and reviews are “pay to play,” however, NAD concluded that Smile Prep’s clear aligner reviews, rankings, and product information are influenced by Smile Prep’s affiliate relationships and that Smile Prep disclosure that reviews, rankings, and product information of the clear aligners of its affiliate partners is advertising.
Implied Claims Regarding Consumer Reviews and Testimonials
NAD determined that Smile Prep’s consumer review collection, moderation, and posting practices provided a reasonable basis for its implied claims that Smile Prep does not primarily solicit reviews from customers of its affiliate partners and that its reviews reflect the real experiences of legitimate clear aligner consumers.
However, because Smile Prep does not clearly disclose on pages where the consumer reviews are posted that Smile Prep provided incentives for the reviews, NAD recommended that Smile Prep clearly and conspicuously disclose the material connection between the reviewer and Smile Prep.
NAD determined that Smile Prep did not show a reasonable basis of support for the challenged express comparative, efficacy, and performance claims about the product and services of Smile Prep’s affiliate partner, Byte.
Therefore, NAD recommended that claims such as the following be discontinued:
- Byte’s home aligners can achieve/deliver “results in as few as four months for some customers.”
- “Byte is one of the most effective at-home teeth straightening services on the market.”
During the proceeding, the advertiser voluntarily discontinued or modified certain challenged claims about the products and services of Byte. Therefore, NAD did not review these claims on the merits.
Finally, NAD determined that the broad claim “Smile Prep partners, including Byte, offer exclusive features and benefits that other clear aligner providers do not” was not implied by Smile Prep’s content.
In its advertiser statement, Smile Prep stated that it “respectfully disagrees with the NAD’s analysis and the outcomes it reached” and that it “will be appealing all aspects of NAD’s decision.”
Appeals of NAD decisions are made to BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate-level truth-in-advertising body of BBB National Programs.
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