Urban Nutrition Participates In ERSP Forum Marketer
New York, NY – August 11, 2009 – The Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) has recommended that Urban Nutrition clearly and conspicuously disclose its material connections to the Websites, products and paid reviews on certain Websites that present themselves as unbiased and independent consumer resources.
Specifically, ERSP has recommended that Urban Nutrition, the operator of WeKnowDiets.com and other affiliated Websites, clearly and conspicuously disclose that it is the owner of both the product-review Websites and several of the products that are reviewed on the sites. In addition, ERSP recommended that the company disclose that it compensates the individuals who write the reviews.
ERSP examined advertising claims at Urban Nutrition’s Websites, which are formatted as independent product-review blogs, following a competitive challenge. ERSP, the electronic direct-response industry’s self-regulatory forum, is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) with policy oversight by the National Advertising Review Council (NARC).
The following issues formed the basis of the challenge:
- The marketer presents itself as an unbiased and independent resource for consumers when there is a potentially a material connection between the marketer, the Websites and the products reviewed at the sites.
- The advertising communicates claims based upon unbiased reviews of weight- loss products.
- The marketer identifies a product as “Most Popular” or as a “Customer Choice Award,” based upon what appears to be a comparative assessment when, in fact, the marketer’s product appears to be permanently featured as the selected product.
- The advertising communicates several express superiority claims.
- The marketer fails to disclose that it has compensated the individuals writing the product reviews.
In response to ERSP’s inquiry, the advertiser noted that it owns and controls the WeKnowDiets Website along with www.googlediets.com, www.wikidietinfo.com, www.thedietlibrary.com, and www.dietblogtalk.com, as well as three of the products that are being reviewed on these Websites.
Further, Urban Nutrition noted that it is the owner of the MiracleBurn dietary supplement, which at the time of the inquiry was named “The Most Popular Product” and “Costumer Choice Award” on the WeKnowDiets website (as well as several other Urban Nutrition Websites). The marketer noted, as well, that individuals are paid $20 by Urban Nutrition for submitting product reviews which are included on the Websites.
Following its review, ERSP determined as a first step that the representations made on WeKnowDiets.com and affiliated Websites constituted an advertising message and individuals writing favorable product reviews on the Website could be considered endorsers, whose testimonials are required to conform to the provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Guides on Endorsements and Testimonials.
ERSP further determined that Urban Nutrition’s ownership of the Websites and its role as the manufacturer of some of the products reviewed at the Websites constituted a material connection that the marketer is required to disclose to consumers.
During the course of the ERSP inquiry, Urban Nutrition advised ERSP that it would add an appropriate disclosure of its connection with the reviewers that appear on the Website and disclose it has a “material connection” to any product that it markets by including a note at or near the top of those products’ reviews. The marketer also said that would include, on sites that it sponsors, a note on the Website homepage disclosing that relationship.
ERSP noted that while it appreciated the voluntary actions taken by Urban Nutrition, it is imperative that the placement of disclosures regarding the marketer’s material connections to the Websites and products be of such prominence to assure that consumers understand the relationship between Urban Nutrition and the products being reviewed immediately upon visiting the site.
ERSP recommended that disclosures be communicated in clear, conspicuous and prominent language at the top of the sites, using text that distinguishes the disclosure language from the remaining content of its Websites. ERSP further recommended that the marketer include such disclosure language on each page of the respective Websites where a material connection exists.
With respect to the individual product reviews, ERSP recommended that the marketer disclose that it has a “material connection” by including appropriate language in close proximity to the products being reviewed.
Regarding both the marketer’s own individual product review pages, along with the individual product blog Websites, ERSP recommended that the marketer include an appropriate disclosure at the top of each Webpage/Website indicating the business or personal relationship the reviewers may have with Urban Nutrition.
During the course of the ERSP inquiry, the marketer advised ERSP that it would voluntarily modify superiority statements by using less comparative headings in highlighting a particular product and add hyperlinks to truthful statements that product data was compiled from product sales and numbers and/or from Urban Nutrition’s readers who voted for the various products and/or programs listed.
ERSP recommended that in making such a modification, the marketer also provide the appropriate time parameters for which the comparative data was compiled.
Urban Nutrition has further agreed to voluntarily revise the competitive claims that “We have compiled the most comprehensive database of information for people who are looking for a trimmer body and healthier lifestyle” and “We have the largest weight loss database inAmerica.” Urban Nutrition also advised ERSP that it would add contact information to the Websites so that readers could contact reviewers and companies whose products are reviewed on the sites; contact the sites to correct inaccuracies; get their products reviewed; and/or potentially advertise with the site.
The challenger also provided evidence allegedly linking Urban Nutrition other review Websites. However, the advertiser denied any materials connection to those sites. ERSP noted that it could not procedurally resolve that issue.
During the course of the ERSP inquiry, the challenger also called to ERSP’s attention several additional claims made in the product reviews. Noting that the claims were not raised in the original challenge, ERSP declined to make a finding, but said that the claims could be pursued in a separate inquiry.
In its marketer’s statement, the company said it will “follow the ERSP’s recommendations to reinforce several aspects of effective disclosure methods for online advertising, with respect to disclosure of these material connections. UN will also make the modifications ERSP recommends with respect to UN’s comparative advertising claims. UN is committed to ensuring that its advertising is truthful, accurate, and substantiated. UN values and supports industry self-regulation, and we welcome the ERSP’s decision regarding advertising for UN’s affiliated websites and products,” the company said.
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