Lumosity, an online site and smartphone app, is supposed to help its users train their brains so they can achieve their “full potential in every aspect of life.” Unfortunately, the company was unenlightened when it came to avoiding false advertising claims. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the company claimed that using its products would improve performance on everyday tasks, in school, at work, and in athletics; delay age-related cognitive decline and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease; and reduce cognitive impairment associated with health conditions, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, ADHD, the side effects of chemotherapy, and Turner syndrome. The company also claimed that scientific studies proved these benefits.
The company’s ads featured many testimonials lauding the company’s products and benefits, but the endorsements were incentivized through contests and promotions offering prizes and rewards.
On Tuesday, January 5, 2015, the FTC announced a proposed settlement of false cognition-enhancing claims and violations of the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising with Lumosity, Lumos Labs, and their principals. Due to financial hardship, the proposed $50 million civil penalty was reduced to $2 million. The FTC participates in the National Prevention Council – which provides coordination and leadership at the federal level regarding prevention, wellness, and health promotion practices. The FTC said that the settlement furthers the Council’s goal of increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at all stages of life, and of protecting consumer from misleading health claims.
The settlement is the latest in a line of cases focusing on health and cognition benefits involving foods, dietary supplements and “learning” products. Note to advertisers: if you are making brain health or similar claims, be sure you have appropriate support for the claims at the time you make them. And don’t forget that offering incentives for endorsements and testimonials triggers disclosure and other obligations under FTC guidelines.