Exclusive: SENSA Weighs in on FTC Fines15 Jan, 2014 By: Doug McPherson
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week levied fines against SENSA Products LLC and three other weight-loss product makers for deceptive advertising practices. The FTC says the action was part of what it calls “Operation Failed Resolution” – an ongoing effort to stop misleading claims for products promoting easy weight loss.
SENSA will pay $26.5 million, money the FTC says will be used as refunds to SENSA customers.
The FTC charged SENSA, its parent company and two individuals with deceptively advertising that the powdered food additive enhances food’s smell and taste, making users feel full faster so they eat less and lose weight – without dieting and without changing their exercise regimes. The defendants did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support these claims, according to the FTC’s complaint.
The FTC’s complaint names SENSA Inc.’s former CEO Adam Goldenberg, and SENSA creator and endorser Dr. Alan Hirsch.
The FTC says the defendants failed to disclose the fact that some consumers were compensated for their endorsements of SENSA. In some instances, compensation included payments of $1,000 or $5,000, and trips to Los Angeles.
When contacted by Response, Katelyn O’Reilly, senior director of public relations & healthcare marketing at SENSA, answered these questions:
- Does SENSA believe the fine is fair? ”A fine of this amount is difficult for any company, but we are pleased to move forward and get back to the core of our business: our customers.”
- When was the company first notified of the FTC investigation? “The company is not able to comment on this.”
- How specifically will SENSA be changing its advertising? “The campaigns [will] have a stronger focus on advocating eating less through portion control and adopting healthier habits. We have also made changes to our disclosures.”
- What would you tell other companies in the weight-loss space about advertising? “The weight-loss industry is a highly regulated space, and advertisers should be vigilant in keeping up with FTC advertising guidelines. SENSA has also set a precedent in the industry, so other weight-loss companies should be prepared to have the same level of gold-standard substantiation behind their products.”
SENSA also released this statement attributed to its CEO, Kristin Chadwick: “We stand behind SENSA – a leading lifestyle tool that helps customers engage in proper portion control without traditional dieting, stimulants or pills. SENSA Products LLC made a decision to settle with the FTC in order to focus on the core of our business: our customers. SENSA is incorporating changes to its advertising to comply with FTC consent order requirements and has invested millions of dollars to conduct studies to substantiate our claims. We continue to receive positive feedback from our customers and remain committed to developing products that help consumers achieve a healthier lifestyle.”
And on its Facebook page, SENSA wrote that the “efficacy and safety of the product wasn’t the issue, it was some of our advertising, which we changed. SENSA does help people who have had problems with portion control lose weight when nothing else has ever worked. We also promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage healthy eating and exercise whenever possible.”
The company has also created a Q&A section related to the fine on its website at: http://www.sensa.com/frequently-asked-questions-ftc.htm.
The FTC also announced charges against the marketers of two other products that allegedly made unfounded promises: L’Occitane, which claimed that its skin cream would slim users’ bodies but had no science to back up that claim, and HCG Diet Direct, which marketed an unproven human hormone that has been touted by hucksters for more than half a century as a weight-loss treatment.
A partial settlement in a fourth case was announced with LeanSpa LLC, an operation that allegedly deceptively promoted acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss supplements through fake news websites.
“Resolutions to lose weight are easy to make but hard to keep,” says Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “And the chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none. The science just isn’t there.”
Additionally, the FTC warned media outlets to be more diligent when accepting and running ads that may be deceptive and published a notice called a “Gut Check.” Details are posted here: http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/gut-check-reference-guide-media-spotting-false-weight-loss-claims.
Response’s attempts to contact various cable network groups, as well as the FTC, went unanswered.