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Direct Response Marketing

FTC: ‘Your Baby Can Read’ Deceptive

5 Sep, 2012 By: Doug McPherson


WASHINGTON – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues its war on alleged deception, this time targeting the marketers of long-time DRTV success Your Baby Can Read!

The FTC charges Your Baby Can LLC, Hugh Penton, Jr. (its former CEO), and the product’s creator, Robert Titzer, Ph.D, with false and deceptive advertising for claiming in ads and packaging infants and toddlers could be taught to read and that scientific studies proved it. The complaint also charges deceptive expert endorsements.

The company and Penton have agreed to settle with the FTC. The agency is initiating litigation against Titzer in federal court.

The settlement with Penton and Your Baby Can LLC prohibits the Carlsbad, Calif.-based defendants from further use of the term “Your Baby Can Read.” The settlement also imposes a $185 million judgment, which equals the company’s gross sales since January 2008. Upon Your Baby Can’s payment of $500,000, the remainder of the judgment will be suspended due to the company’s failing financial condition. Your Baby Can has represented that it is going out of business. If it is later determined that the financial information the company gave the FTC was false, the full amount of the judgment will become due.

Your Baby Can and Titzer represented that the program taught children as young as nine months old to read; gave children an early start on academic learning, making them more successful in life than those who didn’t use it; and that scientific studies proved these claims, according to the complaint. The program, marketed on the Web and infomercials, uses videos, flash cards and pop-up books that supposedly teach children as young as nine months old how to read.

One 30-minute television infomercial featured a home video of a two-year-old girl who used the program and is purportedly reading a page from the children’s book Charlotte’s Web. The girl’s mother then appears, saying that when her daughter was three years old, “She read her first Harry Potter book, and she fell in love with it.”

According to the complaint, the defendants sold the Your Baby Can Read! program to parents and grandparents of children aged three months to five years since at least January 2008, charging about $200 for each kit and taking in more than $185 million, directly via a toll-free number and their own websites. The defendants marketed the program on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, and television infomercials and ads on network and cable stations such as Lifetime, Discovery Kids, Disney DX, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon. It also was available for purchase online at Amazon.com and BabiesRUs.com, as well as, at retail stores nationwide, including Wal-Mart, Kmart, Walgreens, Buy Buy Baby, Toys “R” Us, and BJ’s Wholesale Club.

The complaint also says the defendants failed to provide competent and reliable scientific evidence that babies can learn to read using the Your Baby Can Read! program, or that children at age three or four can learn to read books such as Charlotte’s Web or the Harry Potter series.
 


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