Publishers: Beware of The Long Arm of The Law

If You Promote Non-Compliant Campaigns – You Could Be The One Hauled Into Court

Recently, a disturbing development has shaken the already unstable footing of the online Publisher (or do you say Affiliate). The Attorney General (AG) for the State of Illinois, Lisa Madigan has, “filed consumer fraud lawsuits against three suppliers and a local affiliate marketer of acai berry products charging that the companies lure customers with free trial offers – through aggressive Internet marketing techniques – and then charge customers’ credit cards prematurely, do not always supply the product and make it nearly impossible to cancel.”

This is a significant change and most surely will be the harbinger of things to come.  In the suit, the AG coordinated efforts with Harpo, Inc., producers of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The Dr. Oz Show” both of whom had their likeness infringed upon by the owners of the campaign, Advanced Wellness Research.  In a separate but related action, Harpo has filed suit against AWR and almost 50 other suppliers and their associated agencies for trademark infringement for using Oprah and Dr. Oz’s name and likeness in their campaign materials.

The action of the Illinois AG sends a clear message to not only the Health sector, but to all links in the Performance Marketing chain – make sure what you are promoting is compliant and not deceiving the public in any way.  The Publisher is identified in the suit as Amirouche & Norton, LLC, who are being asked to pay a civil penalty of $50,000.00, and an additional penalty of $50,000.00 per violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (where the court finds that the Defendant committed with intent to defraud), as well as an additional $50,000.00 per violation of the same Act as above, but this fine relates to only those instances when the consumer was over the age of 65. It also seeks to bar Amirouche & Norton, LLC from promoting health products ever again.

Pretty steep penalties, just for running a Risk Free Trial offer for Acai Berry.  Doesn’t seem very Risk Free to me.

The Complaint outlines very specifically what the infractions are against the Publisher, these include:

  • Using Flogs like Beckysweightloss.com (removed) to mislead consumers about the product benefits.
  • Use of celebrities images and names who are not spokesperson’s for the campaign, and misleading consumers into thinking these celebrities endorse the products.
  • Failure to disclose the terms and conditions of a “free trial offer” in a place that is clear and conspicuous to the consumer.

The point here is simple: Think BEFORE you Promote.  If you cannot clearly understand the terms of the offer, or it seems deceptive in any way, you may want to replace that campaign with something more compliant.  If a campaign uses a celebrity image, steer clear unless it says specifically that the celebrity is a paid spokesperson and the Advertiser has the paperwork to prove it.  And lastly, the use of “fake blogs” or flogs as the Complaint calls them is never a good idea.  Even if you are selling statues of the Virgin Mary, faking testimonials or making up stories about the product and it’s benefits will only cut your career short in Online Marketing.

In a world where Subway(TM) is being made to rethink their marketing because their super weight loss spokesperson Jared is perceived as promoting submarine sandwiches as a diet plan, it is always best to take the high road.

Story Links:
Illinois Atty General’s Press Release
Complaint filed against Publishers, Amirouche and Norton, LLC
Federal Trade Commission
Tips on How To Judge if an Offer is Compliant

n the suit, the AG coordinated efforts with Harpo, Inc., producers of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The Dr. Oz Show” both of whom had their likeness infringed upon by the owners of the campaign, Advanced Wellness Research.  In a separate but related action, Harpo has filed suit against AWR and almost 50 other suppliers and their associated agencies for trademark infringement for using Oprah and Dr. Oz’s name and likeness in their campaign materials.The action of the Illinois AG sends a clear message to not only the Health sector, but to all links in the Performance Marketing chain – make sure what you are promoting is compliant and not deceiving the public in any way.  The Publisher is identified in the suit as Amirouche & Norton, LLC, who are being asked to pay a civil penalty of $50,000.00, and an additional penalty of $50,000.00 per violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (where the court finds that the Defendant committed with intent to defraud), as well as an additional $50,000.00 per violation of the same Act as above, but this fine relates to only those instances when the consumer was over the age of 65. It also seeks to barAmirouche & Norton, LLC from promoting health products ever again.Pretty steep penalties, just for running a Risk Free Trial offer for Acai Berry.  Doesn’t seem very Risk Free to me.The Complaint outlines very specifically what the infractions are against the Publisher, these include:

  • Using Flogs like Beckysweightloss.com (removed) to mislead consumers about the product benefits.
  • Use of celebrities images and names who are not spokesperson’s for the campaign, and misleading consumers into thinking these celebrities endorse the products.
  • Failure to disclose the terms and conditions of a “free trial offer” in a place that is clear and conspicuous to the consumer.

The point here is simple: Think BEFORE you Promote.  If you cannot clearly understand the terms of the offer, or it seems deceptive in any way, you may want to replace that campaign with something more compliant.  If a campaign uses a celebrity image, steer clear unless it says specifically that the celebrity is a paid spokesperson and the Advertiser has the paperwork to prove it.  And lastly, the use of “fake blogs” or flogs as the Complaint calls them is never a good idea.  Even if you are selling statues of the Virgin Mary, faking testimonials or making up stories about the product and it’s benefits will only cut your career short in Online Marketing.

In a world where Subway(TM) is being made to rethink their marketing because their super weight loss spokesperson Jared is perceived as promoting submarine sandwiches as a diet plan, it is always best to take the high road.

Story Links:
– Illinois Atty General’s Press Release
– http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2009_08/20090819.html
– Complaint filed against Publishers, Amirouche and Norton, LLC
– http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2009_08/AMIROUCH%20INJUNCTIVE_08-19-2009_15-54-48.pdf
– Federal Trade Commission
– http://www.ftc.gov
– Tips on How To Judge if an Offer is Compliant
– http://jimlillig.com/internet-marketing/illinois-attorney-general-cracks-down-on-affiliates-using-deceptive-practices/



 









 

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