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FTC suing Gravity Defyer footwear

Discussion in 'General Issues and Discussion Forum' started by NewsBot, Jun 11, 2022.

  1. NewsBot

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    Press release:
    Federal Trade Commission Sues Gravity Defyer and its Owner for Violating FTC Order and Making Baseless Pain-Relief Claims to Market Footwear
    Defendants Targeted Older Americans Suffering from Arthritis, Joint Pain, and Other Medical Conditions

    June 7, 2022

    The Federal Trade Commission is taking action against California-based Gravity Defyer Medical Technology Corporation and its owner Alexander Elnekaveh, filing a complaint in federal district court to permanently stop their allegedly deceptive pain-relief claims for Gravity Defyer footwear.


    In a complaint filed in federal district court, the FTC alleged that Elnekaveh violated a 2001 order barring him from such allegedly deceptive advertising by making scientifically unsupported claims and using misleading consumer testimonials to sell Gravity Defyer products. The FTC claimed that the company’s advertisements often targeted older Americans suffering from pain-related conditions like arthritis.


    “Ignoring a prior Commission order, Gravity Defyer and its owner used false pain-relief claims to target older Americans and undercut honest competitors,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Health-based claims require science-based proof, and faking it by misusing studies and customer reviews breaks the law.”


    Since at least 2016, the defendants have advertised their Gravity Defyer footwear as containing soles with “VersoShock” technology that supposedly relieves pain, including pain in people suffering from numerous medical conditions. According to the FTC’s complaint, the ads claim, without competent and reliable scientific evidence, that Gravity Defyer footwear:


    will relieve pain, including knee, back and foot pain;

    will relieve pain in people suffering from multiple conditions such as plantar fasciitis, arthritis, joint pain, and heel spurs; and

    is clinically proven to relieve pain, including 85 percent less knee pain, 91 percent less back pain, 92 percent less ankle pain, and 75 percent less foot pain.

    Gravity Defyer has sold more than 100 styles of footwear for men and women on its website, including athletic shoes, casual shoes, dress shoes, hiking shoes and boots, and sandals. Prices have ranged from $140 for men’s and women’s sandals to $155 for the widely advertised Mighty Walk walking shoes, and $235 for men’s work boots.


    The company sells Gravity Defyer footwear on its own website, through its in-house call center, and at retailers throughout the country, including The Walking Company, Hammacher Schlemmer, and Shoe City, according to the FTC. It advertises the products through magazine ads, Facebook ads, Internet ads, radio commercials and catalogs.


    One of the company’s ads stated that Gravity Defyer shoes are “clinically proven pain defying footwear.” Another said, “Enjoy the benefits of exercise, with proven pain relief.” The company’s ads cite a study to back up their claims, but the FTC alleges this study has substantial flaws and was insufficient to determine the effects of wearing Gravity Defyer footwear.


    In filing the complaint, the Commission is seeking an order permanently barring the defendants from making misleading or deceptive pain-relief claims, as well as civil penalties and other relief.


    The Commission vote to authorize the staff to approve the complaint and proposed order was 4-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     
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    Here is a 2021 press release about the issue:
    National Advertising Division Refers Advertising Claims for Gravity Defyer Shoes to Federal Trade Commission for Possible Enforcement Action

    New York, NY – September 14, 2021 – The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs is disappointed that Gravity Defyer Medical Technology Corporation declined to participate in the industry self-regulation process. As a result of the advertiser’s failure to participate, NAD has referred advertising claims for their Gravity Defyer shoes to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for review.
    Through its routine monitoring program, NAD challenged the claims:
    • “Clinically Proven to Relieve Pain: Back, Knee, Ankle & Foot Pain. According to a 2017 double-blind study conducted by Olive View UCLA Medical Center.”
    • “And ease discomfort associated with: arthritis; joint pain; heel spurs; and more”
    • “85% -- less knee pain”
    • “91% -- less back pain”
    • “92% -- less ankle pain”
    • “75% -- less foot pain”
    During the inquiry, the advertiser permanently discontinued the challenged claim “Live Life Without Pain: Plantar Fasciitis; Arthritis; Joint Pain; Heel Spurs; Back & Knee Pain” and the reference to “plantar fasciitis” in the claim “. . . ease discomfort associated with: fasciitis; arthritis; joint pain; heel spurs; and more,” as well as the testimonial “I’ve had lower back pain for years. Walking in these shoes was life changing for me. I feel like I’m walking on air.” Therefore, NAD did not review these claims on the merits.
    In 2019, NAD requested that Gravity Defyer Medical Technology Corporation provide evidence that it complied with a 2011 NAD decision to discontinue certain health-related claims for Gravity Defyer shoes. After the advertiser referred to new clinical evidence in support of the 2011 challenged claims, NAD closed that compliance inquiry and granted the advertiser’s petition to reopen the case.
    After initially agreeing to participate in the reopened case, and shortly before the issuance of NAD’s decision, the advertiser stated that it will no longer participate in the NAD process. Thus, NAD has referred the matter to the FTC for possible enforcement action.
     
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    Commentary from mondaq.com

    While this case is still in its early stages, and with the defendants clearly planning to dispute the FTC's charges here, there are definitely some important take-aways to keep in mind.

    First, health-related claims, and particularly claims directed to older consumers, continue to be a top priority for the FTC.

    Second, if you're going to make health related claims, you should expect the FTC to take a hard look at your evidence. When designing your study, work with experts who can help you ensure that you're developing the proof required to meet the FTC's standards for competent and reliable scientific evidence.

    Third, endorsement-related issues also continue to be an FTC focus. While so much attention in the last few years has been on properly disclosing material connections, this case is a good example of the FTC focusing on the Endorsement Guides' typicality requirements.

    Fourth, note that this case, like so many others, was also brought against the company's owner -- something all company leaders should keep in mind as they're making decisions about their own advertising campaigns.

    And, finally, if you needed another reason to avoid having to enter into an FTC consent order, this is a good one. The FTC doesn't forget about them, and won't hesitate to enforce the terms, even decades later, and even when it involves a different company and different products.
     
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