Monthly Archives: October 2016

Supplement Marketers: Are You Crossing The Language Compliance Line?

picture of apple filled with dietary supplements to accompany blog post about supplement marketersLegal advice for supplement marketers: Be careful when wording dietary supplement promotional materials. Strict rules do apply, and breaking them could cost you millions.

FDA Takes Notice Of Trade Show Marketing Materials

Picture it (TM Sophia Petrillo). March 2016; the Natural Products Expo West Center [wavy lines transport us to a flashback]…

Health enthusiasts buzzed round the nutraceutical carnival; aromatherapy dominated olfactory senses, and a Washington State supplement brand charmed marketing materials into recycled tote bags.

Several weeks later, the material found its way to the FDA, who in turn issued a stern warning about “non-compliant disease claims.”

What Phrases Should Supplement Marketers Double Check?

So, with what wording did the FDA take issue? Here’s a list:

  • “…used in herbal medicine to help slow the progression of disorders for the eye…”
  • “…lowers blood pressure in hypertensive individuals…”
  • “…lower cholesterol levels…”
  • “…protects against cardiovascular diseases…”
  • “…slow the progression of diabetic and hypertensive retinopathy…”
  • “…protect against development of cancerous prostate cell lines…”
  • “…clinically effective in treatment of alcoholic cirrhosis…”
  • “Clinically improves cognitive function [for Alzheimer’s, vascular or mixed dementia patients].”

Are the above expressions always out of bounds? No. It’s important to understand that context is key.

Play it safe by having a marketing lawyer review your advertising materials before launching a campaign — everything from your website to trade show pass outs.

Interested in other marketing legal issues? Jump this way.

Are you a supplement marketer in need of a compliance review? Get in touch.

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Amazon’s New Review Policy: Big Changes

Picture of two business people on couch to accompany blog post about Amazon’s new review policy
Amazon’s new review policy crashed into Planet-Online-Retail, and now feedback facilitators are working round the clock to adjust business models.

Let’s take 3 minutes to outline the situation — in plain language — and examine how the change will affect Amazon sellers and reviewers.

How Amazon Reviews Used To Work

Before this e-commerce October surprise, Amazon let sellers offer discounts in exchange for product reviews, so long as the reviewer included proper disclosures. The system seemed to work and even spawned review facilitation businesses that helped vendors plan and execute discount-for-review programs.

But Amazon never seemed entirely comfortable with paid reviews, of any ilk. In fact, to combat the trend, platform engineers deployed a “learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews” and implemented stricter “verified purchase” badge requirements.

Amazon has even sued a few unlucky pay-for-review services, which you can read about here and here.

Amazon’s New Review Policy Points

So, what was the big change? In short: Sellers can no longer offer free products and discounts in exchange for a review. Here is a handful of specific points:

  • Sellers can’t use third-party services to loophole around the restriction.
  • The policy took effect immediately, but vendors shouldn’t worry about past posts. However, Amazon may remove old reviews “if they are excessive, and don’t comply with prior policy.”
  • Sellers CAN “continue to offer discounts and promotions as long as they are not offered in exchange for reviews.
  • Ignoring Amazon’s new review policy is grounds for account suspension.
  • Review facilitators can no longer require members to leave reviews.

Authors Are Exempt From Amazon’s New Review Rules

Which segment of Amazon World doesn’t have to worry about the new review guidelines? Authors. Giving away advanced copies of a book, in exchange for a review, is a publishing industry solemnity — and the online retail giant doesn’t want to disturb the ancient institution. In Amazon’s exact words, the company will “continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

What’s VINE Got To Do With It?

Discount-for-feedback programs are strictly prohibited “unless […] facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.”

Wait, what?

Yep, Amazon is now the only acceptable channel for early offer arrangements. But even that’s a slight misnomer because Amazon doesn’t “incentivize [Vine members to give] positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written.”

Is Amazon Sticking It To The Proverbial “Little Guy”?

Amazon’s new review policy press release states that “when done carefully,” incentivized reviews “can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.”

To put it another way: Amazon admits that “incentivized reviews” help online retail startups, but it’s outlawing the practice regardless? Apparently so.

Now, does this mean it’ll be impossible to start a successful FBA store? Not at all. Most review facilitators have already operationally adjusted to the change.

But beyond that, in the simple terms, people like reviewing products. Stick to an effective marketing plan — which includes follow-up e-mails and superior customer service — and you shouldn’t notice a seismic change in sales.

Online Retail Legal Reminders and Considerations

Before our 3-minutes are up, we wanted to leave you with 3 legally minded thoughts:

  • “Unfair and deceptive marketing” rules do apply. Adhere to them or risk and FTC investigation and fine.
  • In light of Amazon’s new review policy, feedback services should make a Herculean effort to contact their review-writers’ networks. Don’t forget, a review that includes something to the effect of “received at a discount for an honest and unbiased review,” is now non-compliant.
  • Account suspension is reversible in some instances. Talk with an online retail consultant who can help pinpoint the exact problem, and provide the best plan of action to restore your account.

Good luck with Amazon’s new review policy. If you have questions, get in touch.

Luxury Counterfeit Law: Kering v. Alibaba

luxury counterfeit lawsuitAlibaba.com and a behemoth fashion company are entangled in a luxury counterfeit lawsuit. Let’s take a look.

The Cast: A Luxury Brand to Rule Them All v. Online Retail Giant

Before we get to the lawsuit, let’s establish the players.

Kering

Kering is a huge fashion holding company for sport and luxury brands like Yves Saint Lauren, Gucci, McQueen, Brioni, and Puma. (Fun Fact: Kering’s CEO, François-Henri Pinault, is married to actress Salma Hayek.)

Alibaba.com

Alibaba.com (at the time of writing) is the #2 tech company in China and a major online retail hub. Almost everybody in the product marketing industry interacts with Alibaba.com in some capacity. Like Amazon.com, Alibaba.com is an expanding Borg-like force.

Kering v. Alibaba.com: The Clash of The Retailers

Product Marketing Legal Overview

Let’s be blunt: More often than not, especially lately, items bearing luxury tags are made in China. Why? You know the answer: cheaper labor. “Then how come luxury items cost so much?” Again, you know the answer: brand status is commerce’s co-pilot. “So, then, where does all that luxury money go if not to the people making the products?” Bingo! Back to the luxury companies who are  trading mostly in marketing, not manufacturing.

A retail revolution Is afoot: Asian factories are growing frustrated with the disparity. After all, who appreciates doing most of the work and reaping the least amount of profits? Nobody. So, Chinese manufacturers began a “Quality Made in China” initiative in an attempt to bypass luxury marketing middlemen, like Kering. Let’s put it this way: if “Made in the USA” is about patriotism, the Chinese effort is about globalism.

Luxury Counterfeit Law Claim

So, back to the lawsuit.

In an attempt to knockout knockoffs, Kering sued Alibaba, claiming various intellectual property infringements and — rather dramatically — racketeering.

Racketeering, you ask? Here’s the argument: Alibaba allegedly collaborated with fourteen counterfeiters, by allowing vendors to sell phony products on its site, over an extended period, to deliberately cheat Kering of profits.

Alibaba insists the claims are baseless. So much so that Jack Ma, the online retailer’s founder, vowed to lose in court rather than settle. Why isn’t Ma compromising? Only he knows; but to wager a guess, it’s probably because a settlement would thrust Alibaba into an extremely vulnerable cash flow position — which could also effect U.S. online retail companies. Moreover, a racketeering conviction, in a case like this, has the power to hamstring the global market — top to bottom.

Judge Shuts Down Luxury Goods Racketeering Claim

Theoretically, the racketeering assertion is plausible; but is it practical? No way. Why? It could crush the multi-billion online retail industry — and jump-start another global recession.

The presiding judge did side-eye the racketeering claim, and ultimately dismissed the charge, explaining:

“[M]erchants weren’t aware of each other or were in intentional cahoots w/ Alibaba, required by U.S. racketeering laws. […] The fraud perpetrated by each merchant defendant could be accomplished without any assistance from any other merchant defendant.”

The Case Is Not Over: Yes, in this luxury counterfeit law case, the judged axed a racketeering charge — but the intellectual property claims persist; Jack Ma and co. aren’t out of the woods just yet.

An Attorney Who Understands Luxury Counterfeit Law

Need help sorting an Internet business issue? If so, get in touch.