We have written many times about the key players in U.S.-based advertising regulation: the Federal Trade Commission, the National Advertising Division, and states’ attorneys general. But there is another player that is often overlooked in these discussions: consumer advocacy groups.
One of the leading consumer advocacy groups focused on advertising is Truth in Advertising (TINA.org), an independent non-profit organization that monitors advertising for claims it views as misleading or deceptive. When it identifies such a claim, the organization often notifies the advertiser, the public, and government regulators, thereby pressuring the advertiser to substantiate or stop making the claim. In this way, TINA.org carries out its mission “to be the go-to online resource dedicated to empowering consumers to protect themselves and one another against false advertising and deceptive marketing.”
Although TINA.org and other advocacy groups like it do not have the authority to force advertisers to modify or discontinue their advertising, finding yourself in their cross-hairs is never a welcome development.
A recent case in point: Earlier this week TINA.org published on its website concerns about certain sleep-quality claims made by MyPillow, including:
- “NEW SLEEP STUDY PROVED! Significantly increases the amount of deep sleep, with no participants experiencing a decrease!” and
- “96% of participants experienced LESS sleep INTERRUPTIONS!”
The group’s complaint seems to be that there is no access to the actual study or any summary of the study, leaving consumers in the dark about the basis of the claims. According to TINA.org, the study does not appear on the website, and the only thing that comes close to summarizing it is language found in a disclaimer: “Results are based on a blind clinical study comparing study participants’ sleep between their original pillow and My Pillow Classic pillow.”
Although advertisers are generally not required to publish the studies supporting their claims, they are required to have substantiation for all express and implied claims, and to provide it to government regulators if asked. TINA.org is not a government regulator, however, a fact that was almost certainly not lost on MyPillow when it responded to the organization’s request for information about the study with what sounds like a pretty firm “no.”
According to TINA.org, MyPillow responded with a series of emails from its CEO and friend-of-the-President, Mike Lindell, who “attack[ed] TINA.org,” calling it a “corrupt organization that should be ashamed of itself.” The organization theorized that the attacks may have been the result of lingering bad blood concerning a $1 million settlement with the state of California arising out of a 2015 investigation by TINA.org concerning claims that MyPillow could treat or cure health conditions including insomnia, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, PTSD, and acid reflux. Either way, there appears to be no love lost between the two parties. It will be interesting to see if any government regulator takes an interest in the issue.
In the meantime, Mr. Lindell can rest easy knowing that MyPillow has at least one very satisfied and well-positioned customer in the government. No less an authority than the President has called MyPillow a “great pillow that I actually use, believe it or not.”