Any product purporting to be a panacea for a serious health issue needs serious evidence to back up such a promise. Take Nobetes, a dietary supplement touted as “the miracle product [diabetics have] been waiting for.” The company and its two principal officers claimed Nobetes lowered blood sugar and reduced the need for insulin. They even had a “doctor” endorse the product on TV.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t believe in miracle products, however. The FTC’s complaint alleges that between 2015 and 2018, Nobetes Corporation and its officers marketed and sold Nobetes on television, radio, and social media in violation of Sections 5(a) and 12 of the FTC Act, which prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices and false advertisements for food, drugs, devices, services, or cosmetics. Among the unsubstantiated claims made in the ads were that Nobetes can “control blood sugar within normal levels” and “fill the nutritional shortages that diabetes causes.” The company failed to provide scientific evidence to support the claims, even after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the company in 2016 that it needed to back up such assertions with reliable scientific evidence.
In addition, one of the television ads used consumer testimonials from people who stated that they were able to reduce their insulin intake with Nobetes. The company failed, however, to disclose that the consumers featured in the ads were being compensated with free products in exchange for their testimonials and that the “doctor” endorsing Nobetes in the same ad was in fact a paid actor. This violates the FTC’s Endorsement and Testimonial Guides, which require that any connection between an advertiser and an endorser that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement be fully disclosed.
But wait, there’s more! Consumers were offered a two-for-one deal that required them to give a credit card number to only to cover shipping and handling costs of $6.95. Yet, according to the FTC, the company then used the credit card numbers to automatically enroll customers in a continuity program, charging a $29.95 monthly fee without their authorization.
The FTC charged the company and its officers with making unsubstantiated health claims, using fake “experts” to endorse the product, neglecting to disclose material connections between spokespersons and the company, failing to disclose the terms of “free trial” offers, and billing customers without their consent. Under the terms of the settlement order, the company is required to pay a fine of $182,000 and its officers are permanently barred from advertising or selling Nobetes or any other diabetes product. They are also prohibited from using false endorsements, making unsubstantiated health claims, billing consumers without their consent, and misrepresenting the terms of any free trial or other special offer.
The FTC has been active in enforcing the Endorsement and Testimonial Guides. Just last year, the agency sent out letters to 90 marketers and their influencers warning them of their obligation to clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships when promoting or endorsing products through social media. The Nobetes settlement is a reminder for companies to familiarize themselves with the FTC’s rules, regulations, and guidelines when marketing their goods and services and ensure that any product claims are backed up by credible evidence.