What's New -- CSPI Press Releases

For Immediate Release: December 4, 1997

Cntact: Bruce Silverglade 202/332-9110, ext. 337

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STATEMENT OF BRUCE SILVERGLADE

CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

13th ANNUAL HARLAN PAGE HUBBARD LEMON AWARDS

December 4, 1997

Good morning. I am Bruce Silverglade, legal director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Well it's that time again. We've taken out the lemon trophies from their storage boxes and polished them up for this year's event -- the 13th annual Harlan Page Hubbard Lemon Awards for the most misleading, unfair and irresponsible advertising of the past year.

I'm often asked just who was Harlan Page Hubbard? Hubbard was a 19th century advertising impresario who pioneered modern national advertising strategies. His most famous campaign, however, was for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound which he promoted as curing a host of ailments ranging from cancer to low sex drive.

The Hubbard spirit is still alive and well in the advertising community today and I am sure that old Harlan would be proud of this year's winners. Whether it's a long distance telephone company that promises "free" phone calls or a diet program that promises weight loss "without the risks," deceptive ads can empty our pocketbooks and endanger our health.

The Hubbard Awards is a fun event, but one with a serious message, and we are gratified that our awards ceremony has been taken seriously by consumer protection officials. Over the years, almost two dozen Hubbard winners have been targeted by state and federal regulatory agencies.

However, while advertising becomes more and more pervasive, the resources of consumer protection agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fail to keep pace. All too often, the FTC can only order deceptive advertisers to "cease and desist." Companies that have bilked consumers out of millions of dollars are often not even required to pay a fine.

For example, the FTC took action against Abbott Laboratories, the makers of Ensure, after it received a Hubbard award in 1995 for deceptively claiming that the nutritional beverage was "#1 doctor recommended." The FTC cited the company for making false and unsubstantiated claims and ordered it to "cease and desist." Within days of the FTC order, however, the company merely changed the advertised claim to "#1 doctor recommended supplement" and resumed the ads. The FTC is still investigating the new ads, more than two years after the matter first came to its attention.

Congress needs to give consumer watchdog agencies like the FTC more teeth including the ability to make deceptive advertisers pay for their misdeeds. Then, companies like Abbott would be more likely to respect the law.

The bottom line is that as long as the resources of consumer protection agencies remain limited, consumers themselves must remain vigilant. In Hubbard's time it was called "buyer beware," and unfortunately, that expression still rings true today.


[ Hubbard Awards Press Release ]