DEVELOPING STORY: Online Claims About Acai Berry On FTC’s Radar Screen; Agency To Announce Action Against ‘Internet Marketers’ Next Week In Chicago (Oprah’s City)
In 2009, Oprah Winfrey sued more than 40 companies for trademark infringement amid claims they were fleecing the public by implying she endorsed their Acai berry products.
Winfrey, an American television and business icon, is based in Chicago. Harpo Productions, which produces The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Dr. Oz Show, filed the infringement lawsuit on behalf of Winfrey and Dr. Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon.
“Neither Ms. Winfrey nor Dr. Oz has ever sponsored or endorsed any acai, resveratrol or dietary supplement product and cannot vouch for their safety or effectiveness,” Harpo said on the Oprah website last year. “It is our intention to put an end to these companiesâ€™ false claims and increasingly deceptive practices.”
Oz issued a statement last year on the Oprah site, saying scammers were using his name to swindle the public.
“The companies that are using my name to hawk these products are duping the public,” Oz said. “I do not endorse any of these products. By falsely presenting products as â€˜scientifically provenâ€™ and endorsed by well-known figures, these companies do a gross disservice to the public health and could even pose a danger to those who believe their false and unproven claims. I am taking this step in the interest of public safety. I feel compelled to stand up against these companies and their deceitful practices.”
The Federal Trade Commission announced today that its Chicago office will announce an “action against Internet Marketers of Acai berry weight-loss pills and ‘colon cleansers.'” The FTC announcement is expected Monday.
It was not immediately clear if the agency’s decision to announce the news in Chicago was a coincidence. What is clear is that Winfrey’s name often is appropriated by scammers or purveyors of questionable “business opportunities” and products and services in a bid to leech off her brandÂ and drive sales.
It also is clear that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is taking action against firms that falsely state or imply their products are endorsed by celebrities. The names of Winfrey and Oz are mentioned in three lawsuits Madigan filed last year.
Other celebrity names mentioned in the Illinois lawsuits, which alleged deceptive trade practices for the manner in which products were marketed and customers were approached and billed, include Rachel Ray, Gweneth Paltrow, Courtney Love and Eva Longoria-Parker.
Madigan said scammers linked the names of celebrities to purported deals that involved free trials and claims of weight loss.
“For thousands of dieters, the quest for a miracle product has become a nightmare,” Madigan said last year. “Far too often, consumers end up losing their money — notÂ weight — in these deals.”
The attorney general did not mince words when describing bogus marketing practices.
“We must hold these Internet scammers accountable for their role in a seedy marketing game that steers unsuspecting consumers to online schemes,” Madigan said. “We also need to send a clear message to other marketers and networks in the business of designing misleading, traffic-enticing schemes.”
Earlier this year, Winfrey’s image appeared for 10 consecutive minutes in a YouTube video pitch for Data Network Affiliates (DNA), which purports to assist law enforcement in locating abducted children. The image of Donald Trump, another American business and entertainment icon, appeared in the same pitch.
Other YouTube pitches for DNA implied that the company had a special, cell-phone branding deal with Apple Inc., which brought the world the iPhone.
Neither the Winfrey organization nor the Trump organization returned calls from the PP Blog earlier this year. Apple also did not return calls.
It is common for multilevel-marketing (MLM) participants to make fantastic claims about products, including false claims they are endorsed by celebrities and captains of industry.
The ad for DNA that included Winfrey’s image appeared months after she filed the lawsuit in the Acai berry cases last year. One DNA pitchman said in a conference call earlier this year that the companyÂ had â€œcertain people on speed dial thatâ€™s incredible.â€