Social Media Marketing Maven: Chrissy Teigen

picture of social media icons on phone to accompany post about Chrissy Teigen's social media marketing prowessWhen she’s not lip sync battling, Chrissy Teigen apparently ponders social media marketing mysteries! Recently, the brand influencer Twitter-shared some musings about FTC advertising compliance.

We learned:

  • Chrissy Teigen is serious about her online marketing work and keeps up-to-date with FTC regulations. We say, “Good on her!” Every influencer should familiarize themselves with Federal Trade Commission compliance standards.
  • Chrissy collaborates with brands to draft promotional tweets.
  • Teigen, (like many marketers), doesn’t quite understand why some tea and smoothie social media influencers seem allergic to #ad or #spon promotional hashtags, which are, technically, required.

The FTC’s social media marketing rules

  • Promotional Hashtags: Influencers, marketers, and brands are expected to use #ad, #spon, #sponsor, or #paid in promotional tweets, ‘grams, and other social media posts.
  • Disclose Material Relationships: Read the Dot Com Disclosures to determine the necessary promotional declarations for your product. Don’t want to wade through an FTC regulatory document? Click here for the most important points.
  • Be Mindful of Promotional Language: Don’t lie about product benefits; don’t fib about ingredients; don’t rely on questionable scientific studies to support claims. The FTC has — and will continue to — sue over these types of infractions.

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram promotions are ubiquitous, but online marketing regulations are still nascent. Please don’t misunderstand the assertion. Regulations DO exist; brands risk sizable fines for shirking guidelines. And even though the FTC has earned a reputation for, shall we say, mutable justice… consistency has, over the past year, quietly snuck its way into the investigation equation.

Want to evade the FTC’s prying eyes?  Clean up your marketing compliance house.

Click here to read about other digital promotional legalities. Head this way to speak with someone who can help solve your social media marketing challenges.

Amazon Sues Over Fake Reviews: FBA News

Picture of fake dollar bill to accompany a blog post about Amazon sues over fake reviews

Amazon Does Not Suffer Fools Fake Reviews

Amazon sues over fake reviews, and actively engages courts to enforce its “zero tolerance” stance. Recently, the company filed yet another lawsuit against several phony feedback facilitators.

Amazon Sues Over Fake Reviews

In the past year alone, the online retailer has already sued hundreds of businesses and individuals who create and deploy fake reviews. (You can read about other instances here, here, and here.)

Why Does Amazon Hate Fake Reviews?

Amazon — (and the Federal Trade Commission, for that matter) — views fake reviews as an act of unfair competition. Or, in legalese, buying fake reviews violates Section 5 of the FTC Act because the practice qualifies as an intentional attempt to mislead consumers.

Amazon explained its position to TechCrunch

“Our goal is to eliminate the incentives for sellers to engage in review abuse and shut down this ecosystem around fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation. As long as this type of abuse exists, we will continue to take enforcement and legal action against sellers participating in fraudulent reviews.”

Discount-For-Review Programs Are Also Against Amazon Policy

The news comes in the wake of Amazon’s announcement to purge the site of incentivized reviews (exception: books).

What does this mean for e-commerce entrepreneurs? In all probability, traditional advertising will make a triumphant comeback.

Is Amazon Hamstringing Startups?

In addition to investor cynicism, Amazon’s recent crackdowns have sparked a concern flame in the e-commerce industry. Is Amazon, in a way, raising the barrier of entry way too high, by ultimately forcing startups to outlay a larger initial marketing spend?

Fake Reviews v. Discount-For-Reviews: Both Are Now No-Nos on Amazon

What is the difference between fake reviews and discount-for-review programs? The former conspicuously violates Federal marketing regulations; the latter is (perhaps, it’s now more accurate to say, “was”) an enormously helpful startup marketing tool — which also spawned an entire promotional services niche, feedback facilitation.

Or, to put it simply: discount-for-review programs helped grow the online business economy.

Difficult But Necessary?

On account of Amazon’s no-holds-barred approach to exterminating solicited reviews, a big e-commerce question now looms: Do Amazon’s actions fall into the “difficult-but-necessary” category? Did company quants crunch numbers and discover that its third-party selling programs were ballooning at a breakneck — and unsustainable — speed, flooding the platform with potentially problematic digital detritus?

Because here’s the thing: Amazon is currently the top-dog, and as such, greatly exposed. It must be careful. Other online retailers are patiently crouching in the tall weeds, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce — and that opportunity could be Amazon’s deteriorating respectability. After all, if the platform becomes synonymous with counterfeit goods and phony reviews, the public will start to look elsewhere.

Adjust To Survive

Now, does all this news spell doom and gloom for FBA sellers? No. Surviving amounts to adjusting. Brands and marketers should consider:

  • Launching products at a low price, along with a well-executed customer satisfaction email campaign, which encourages consumers to leave reviews.
  • Readjusting budgets to include other types of “Off Amazon” marketing efforts.
  • Adding an unexpected packaging surprise. Why? Because people are more likely to leave a review if they’re delighted by an unanticipated treat. This tactic also has the added advantage of acting as a counterfeit deterrent.

Need Advice From An Amazon E-Commerce Attorney?

Our firm helps business owners overcome online review challenges, in addition to other Internet business issues, like account suspensions, counterfeiting, and intellectual property troubles.

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China’s New Online Marketing Law

China online marketing law
Quick question: Do you market or advertise on Chinese websites? Did you know a new Chinese online marketing law went into effect on September 1, 2016?

According to Eugene Low, a partner at the Hong Kong office of Hogan Lovells, the previous regulations were “a bit piecemeal” and not precisely defined. This law changes all that.

A Short List Of China’s Digital Promotion Rules

Here’s a snapshot of China’s online marketing laws (some are old, others new):

  1. Acts of “online marketing” include electronic advertising, promotional emails, paid search results, links, and embedded media “with the purpose of promoting goods or services.”
  2. All paid and native advertising must be conspicuously marked as such.
  3. The Chinese government reserves the right to“guard against false and misleading practices.”
  4. Online ads for prescription medication and tobacco are prohibited.
  5. Sellers need government approval to run digital ads for medical supplies, pesticides, vet meds, and other categories of health products.
  6. All paid advertising must be clearly marked in search results.

Additionally, the Chinese government expects businesses to hire new employees to fulfill online marketing requirements and monitoring.

The Roots Of China’s New Online Marketing Law

Earlier in the year, a man suffering from a rare type of cancer died after participating in a hospital drug study advertised on the search engine Baidu. His death stirred controversy, and many citizens “accused Baidu of taking money to promote less proven treatments.” Even the Communist Party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily, tossed some shade Baidu’s way by publishing an article entitled Commentary: Death of college student raises questions on Baidu’s ethics. Here’s an excerpt:

“Companies that were involved in services that deal with human life should be particularly conscientious of their duties when conducting their businesses. Billions of net users trusted Baidu for their search engine and online forum services, the company is hence responsible for the trust and is obligated to taking up their social responsibilities.”

On account of the incident, search engines operating in China must now make sure SERP ad returns don’t exceed 30% of a page’s content.

Who Will Be Affected By China’s New Online Marketing Rules?

Are China’s new promotional laws going to disrupt the market? Probably not. Will they have AN impact? Sure. But a giant one? Unlikely.

China already enforces strict Internet regulations; this latest statute is simply the cherry-on-top — a finishing detail on the country’s longstanding conservative approach to mass media.
Will the online promotion standards impact profits? Maybe. Maybe not. This WSJ article explained:

[New] policies most likely won’t diminish businesses’ bottom lines because pay-for-click ads often run on a bidding system for a limited amount of space. Other analysts, however, said taxes for businesses may increase because the new rules clearly define paid-search results as advertisements.

Major Chinese Websites That Will Probably Be Affected By The New Online Marketing Laws

Chinese Website Revenue Private or Public Closest U.S. Equivalent (in focus, not valuation)
Baidu $9.9 billion – Dec 2015 Public – BIDU Google
Alibaba $15.1 billion – 2016 Public – BABA Amazon
Sina Weibo $482 million – 2011 (Entire Conglomerate) Public – WB Twitter
58.com $297.8 million – 2nd Quarter 2016 Public – WUBA Craigslist
Sohu $852 million – 2011 Public – SOHU Mix of Google and Twitch
Tencent Weibo $15.4 billion – 2015 (Entire Conglomerate) Public – TCEHY Twitter

Need assistance with a Chinese Internet law issue? Visit our friends at Harris / Moure.

The Legal Lowdown On Pokémon Go Lawsuits & Marketing Tactics

pokemon Go Lawsuits
Here Come The Pokémon Go Lawsuits (& Other Marketing Legalities to Consider)

The micropayment miracle, Pokémon Go (PoGo), currently holds the prize belt for “most popular game of all time,” and in short few months, it’s raked in over $210,000,000. Market experts expect revenues to hit $1.1 billion by year’s end, and savvy brick-and-mortar businesses are PoGo promoting — to huge success.

But, dear reader, don’t be lulled into submission! The Pokémon Go story is NOT all smiles and profits. [DUN, DUN, DUN!]

Oh yes, there’s the dark side of Pokémon Go. The side that’s spawned a PoGo disaster map; the side that’s raised get-off-my-lawn stakes to lawsuit level; the side that has people wondering, “Can I sue Pokémon or Nintendo for injuries sustained in the line of PoGo battling!?”

Is Pokémon Go ushering innocents down a dangerous personal injury path? And if so, can the game’s maker be held liable? Moreover, what legal aspects must be considered when promoting a business through PoGo?

Let’s examine this mobile gaming phenomenon, with legal scalpels.

Pokémon Go Lawsuits

Nintendo aims to “put smiles on people’s faces.” Yet, not every civilian is grinning over Pokémon Go. In fact, two households have definitely NOT caught the PoGo craze; instead…they’re filing Pokémon Go lawsuits — alleging nuisance and unfair enrichment.

Get Of My (St. Claire Shores, Michigan) Lawn

The Place: Wahby Park, St. Claire Shores, MI. A point of pride in a middle class enclave, Wahby is a public recreation area that doubles as a Pokéstop and Poke gym.

The Problem: People who live near Wahby aren’t happy. They claim Poké players are driving on private lawns, parking on public streets, tearing up gardens, and…looking at them! One resident lamented, “I don’t feel safe sitting on my porch!” Another referred to the situation as “a nightmare.” Someone else said she was “afraid to go to sleep,” and a man cursed his lack of prescience, lamenting: “If I knew [Pokémon Go] was coming, I’d have sold my place two months before it got here!”

An online anti-PoGoer warned the game was “ruining the quality of life for many Americans,” and a seemingly committed jingoist, who clearly isn’t a free market proponent, cautioned, “It’s a form of destrictive [sic] society, designed by the Chinese. And it’s a shame [Pokémon Go Players] have the power to vote, because it seems that they are easily brain washed. Which could lead this country to it’s [sic] destruction.”

Local Solutions?: Several residents near Wahby Park did seek redress with the city council — and the council did take steps to remedy the situation, like increasing signage, blocking off private roads, and increasing nightly police patrols. Apparently, however, the measures didn’t satisfy one couple who is moving forward with a Pokémon Go lawsuit.

The Lawsuit: One of the disrupted homeowners is suing Niantic, Inc., The Pokémon Company, and Nintendo Co. Ltd. for “nuisance and unjust enrichment.” Why unjust enrichment? Well, the plaintiffs feel that their lawn, being so close to a public park, has helped PoGo become a financial phenomenon. Plus, the lawsuit “seeks to stop designating GPS coordinates on or near private properties without permission.”

Local Opposition: Some Whaby Park Pokémon players are side-eyeing the plaintiffs. One young father interviewed for a local television station explained his viewpoint:

“For the majority, for the mass populous that comes here to play Pokémon, they’re here to have fun and enjoy the nature and meet cool people. We’re not trying to trespass anybody.”

Likely Outcome: Will the homeowners win? Believe it or not, they have a sliver of a shot. There’s a legal standard known as the “attractive nuisance doctrine,” which says homeowners can be held liable for a child’s death or injury if:

  • The landowner keeps something potentially dangerous on their property (i.e., broken car on lawn, trampoline, pool without fence (in some jurisdictions)).
  • The landowner knows children are around who might trespass.
  • The landowner knows that something on their property may endanger trespassing children.
  • The children are too young to recognize the risk.
  • The landowner can fix the problem at a reasonable cost.
  • The landowner does nothing.

Now, this lawsuit isn’t directly related to children harmed by Pokémon Go, but attorneys could argue that Niantic and Nintendo should have foreseen PoGo’s negative consequences. It’s a stretch, but not an impossibility.

That said, PoGo’s terms of service includes an arbitration clause that, in part, reads:

“[D]isputes between you and Niantic will be resolved by binding individual arbitration, and you are waiving your right to trial by jury or to participate as a plaintiff or class member in any purported class action or representative proceeding.”

Does that mean nobody can ever sue Niantic or Nintendo? Nope. Because also embedded in the ToS is a stipulation allowing customers to opt out of the arbitration clause, via email, within 30 days of downloading.

So, bottom line: who will likely win this Pokémon Go lawsuit? If we’re hypothetically trading Vegas odds, then sure, Niantic and Nintendo probably win this one. But you never know. At this point, we cab only be sure that the Courts and clerks are tackling the issue.

Pokémon Go Marketing: Ideas & Legal Considerations

Marketing gurus agree: If you’re a brick-and-mortar business that isn’t using PoGo to lure customers (pun intended), then you’re missing out on…well…money. As one Reddit user urged, “[Using Pokémon Go to promote] is the greatest investment you can make right now.”

So, how are business owners putting PoGo to work?

  • Bars, pubs and restaurants are becoming Poké gyms, then offering discounted drinks for members of the team that holds the gym.
  • Animal shelters are encouraging people to pick up dogs to walk while they’re out for Poké play, which has led to an increase in pet adoptions (Nice!).
  • Creating power stations for “phone refueling.”
  • Following the game and using social media to advertise when a rare Pokémon is in an establishment.

Are the promotions working? Heck yeah! As another Reddit user succinctly said, “[Pokémon promotions brought him] SO. MUCH. FOOT. TRAFFIC.”

“Put down a lure and watch the customers flow in,” advised another.

Tips To Avoid Pokémon Marketing Pitfalls

  • Account Security: Pokémon Go registration means handing over access to your entire Google account. Though Niantic does a wonderful job at keeping secure, the threat of a breach still lurks. Consider creating a new e-mail for your Pokémon Go marketing efforts in case disaster does strike.
  • Malware Concerns: Malware is starting to spread throughout the Pokéverse. Avoid risk by downloading from a reputable source.
  • Play Nice: Don’t try to sabotage a competitor’s PokéMojo. What do we mean? The app includes a Pokéstop and Poké gym removal form. So, let’s say Frank is in direct competition with Mary. They both own and operate ice cream parlors on Main Street. Being a gamer, Mary adopted Pokémon Go early and started using it to promote her business. It didn’t take long for her shop to become both a Pokéstop and a Poke gym. Frank, saw the amount of foot traffic Mary’s Poké-efforts garnered — and he didn’t like it. One day, when feeling particularly spiteful, Frank decided to sabotage Mary’s success by submitting a Pokéstop / Poké Gym removal request for Mary’s business. Frank’s actions could be considered unfair and deceptive marketing, and he could be fined — heavily — by the FTC. (And so can you, if you “pull a Frank.”)

Expect to read a lot about Pokémon Go lawsuits over the next several months. But the question remains: will the PoGo craze outlasts the lawsuits it spawns? Only time has the answer.

Kelly / Warner is a top-rated law firm that focuses on Internet, startup, and eSport law. To learn more about the firm, jump this way.

Internet Law 101: Virus Spoofing Can Cost Millions

virus spoofing
Is virus spoofing against regulations? You bet your spam it is. What are the consequences for getting caught? The FTC could force you to fork over millions, which has the power to extinguish an operation.

What Is Virus Spoofing?

Virus spoofing is the act of tricking someone into thinking their computer is infected. Spoofers typically dispatch pop-up warnings onto machines.

The pop-ups can be convincing and usually direct people to buy anti-virus programs. Sometimes the program is completely worthless; other times it works, but is needless. Whichever the case, it’s considered unfairly manipulative and contravenes marketing regulations.

Who Has The Authority To Sue Over Virus Spoofing?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the nation’s consumer watchdog. Established in 1914, the agency initiates marketing investigations against businesses and individuals — a privilege outlined in the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Attorneys general can also sue over such scams.

Why Is It An Actionable Offense?

The Federal Trade Commission considers Virus spoofing unfair and deceptive marketing, and therefore actionable under the FTC Act. In a recent case, the FTC explained that the defendant “subjected [consumers] to high-pressure deceptive sales pitches for tech support products and services.”

State of Federal Offense?

Deceptive spoofers can face both federal and state punishments.

Accused Of Virus Spoofing?

Has someone accused you of virus spoofing? Next question: “Did you do it?” If yes, contact a lawyer and explain the situation. (Don’t worry; he or she isn’t going to judge you.)

In the best case scenario, your lawyer will be able to loophole you out of the predicament. If not, he or she may be able to diminish the financial blow. Lawyers in this niche know how to negotiate with the FTC, navigate the investigation, and secure settlements with little fanfare (to reduce negative press).

Ready To Consult With An Internet Law Attorney Who’s Dealt With Virus Spoofing Investigations?

If you’re reading this post, there’s a chance you may be on the FTC’s radar. A word of advice: ignoring the issue won’t make it disappear.

But we can help.

Get in touch today; and together, we’ll start solving problems, instead of letting them fester. Let’s talk.

Shopify and Stripe: Account Troubleshooting and Legal Advice

shopify and stripe
Let’s take a few minutes to review the Shopify and Stripe alliance. We’ll:

  1. Go over some background info about both companies;
  2. Examine a few issues, like the prohibited businesses list; and
  3. End with some solutions for commonly reported merchant challenges.

Shopify and Stripe At A Glance

Shopify’s Origin Story

Several years ago, some Canadian snowboarding enthusiasts hopped on the startup train. Their goal? To sell equipment online. But our intrepid entrepreneurs didn’t want a generic online store:

They wanted to stand out; they wanted unique!

To achieve said goal, instead of using a standard payment gateway, the group developed a custom solution.

Quickly, they realized that selling snowboarding stuff was great and all, but releasing their skookum e-commerce platform might be even better.

Thus, with goal in mind, the group regularly convened at a coffee shop. And one day, the phoenix that is Shopify rose from a puff of java-infused, brain fumes.

So, who uses Shopify? People who want a highly customizable solution for their online stores. What do professional critics think of Shopify? CNET described the platform as “clean, simple, and easy-to-use.”

Shopify and Stripe Alliance

Who is Stripe?

HQ’d in Ireland, John and Patrick Collison founded the company in 2010. Simply put, Stripe is payment gateway processor for individuals and businesses without private merchant accounts . It’s similar to PayPal.

Stripe is Shopify’s preferred checkout system.

Common Shopify-Stripe Issues

Here’s the frustrating truth: in the world of online payment processors, chaos is the default setting. Problem-free payment processors fall into the same category as unicorns. A kajillion factors can affect a single transaction; problems are inevitable.

In the world of online payment processors, chaos is the default setting. Problem-free payment processors fall into the same category as unicorns. A kajillion factors can affect a single transaction; problems are inevitable.

Caveats in place — here’s a list of common user complaints about the Shopify and Stripe framework:

  1. No Phone Number: Stripe famously doesn’t have a telephone support number (confirmed at the time of writing) — which is a sore point for many people. In defense, Stripe says e-mail support systems are way better than call centers — and, to be fair, many of their customers agree, citing Stripe’s ticketing system as superior to most.
  2. Chargeback Issues: Is Stripe a chargeback circus? Some people think so. Online response representatives for the company disagree, arguing that chargebacks are an unfortunate part of today’s marketplace, but promising to work closely with vendors to resolve chargeback disputes.
  3. Uncaptured Transactions: Some businesses reported an increase in “uncaptured” or failed transactions that coincided with a move to Stripe. Remedying this problem, however, often just involves a few setting adjustments (see tips section below for possible solutions).
  4. Money Transfer / Frozen Payment Issues: Like any payment gateway, the STRIPE-to-bank-account transfer process can take a tad longer than one would like. Again, this is true for nearly every available option. Hiccups, unfortunately, occur.
  5. Credit Card Blacklist: Stripe takes the “credit card blacklist” seriously. If you inadvertently land on the dreaded directory, Stripe may suspend your account till it’s sorted. Don’t think you belong on the list? Enlist a professional fixer to clean up the matter on your behalf.
  6. Blame Game: Some users accuse Stripe and Shopify of playing blame-hot-potato when it comes to various “authorize only” malfunctions.

Prohibited Business Issues

Products sometimes land on the “prohibited businesses list.” In this section, we’ll review some legal basics and discuss potential solutions.

What Is The Prohibited Business List?

The Prohibited businesses list is exactly what it sounds like — a list of businesses that either Shopify or Stripe bans from being sold through their respective platforms. Foodstuffs, supplements, make-up, formulas, cookware and potential weapons are routinely added to the blacklist.

So, what happens if your product lands on the list? In extreme cases, your online store may simply stop working. At that point, enlist a lawyer to negotiate a reinstatement. An attorney can best explain the necessary steps — based on the specifics of your situation — to get the product compliant — and off the list — ASAP.

The Product Blacklist Constantly Changes

The trickiest thing about the Prohibited Businesses List is its instability; it changes, without notice, on the whims of credit card companies.

Products Most Likely To Land On The Prohibited Businesses List

  • Vitamins
  • Herbs
  • Supplements
  • Weapons and Potential Weapons (including knives and certain fishing gear)

Please don’t read this wrong, not every supplement is doomed to a blacklisted retirement. Just be aware that supplement sales come with an additional set of regulations and considerations.

Please don’t read this wrong, not every supplement is doomed to a blacklisted retirement. Just be aware that supplement sales come with an additional set of regulations and considerations.

Increased Number of Chargebacks After Switching To Stripe

A number of people report an increase in charbacks after switching to Stripe.

Is the criticism fair?

Well, it’s a gray area.

With Stripe, the default privacy setting is “wide open;” users must activate protections. A lot of folks don’t notice the default setting, launch their stores with unsecured payment accounts, and ultimately get burned with fraudulent charges.

With Stripe, the default privacy setting is “wide open;” users must activate protections. A lot of folks don’t notice the default setting, launch their stores with unsecured payment accounts, and ultimately get burned with fraudulent charges.

The takeaway: Manually set security preferences when prepping your Stripe account to avoid a flood of chargebacks.

Clicking “I Agree” Means Absolving Shopify Of Fraud Responsibility

Here’s an excerpt Stripe’s Shopify user agreement:

“You are responsible for verifying the identity of users and of the eligibility of a presented payment card used to purchase your products and services, and Shopify does not guarantee or assume liability for transactions authorize and completed which may later be reversed or charged back. You are solely responsible for all reversed or charged back transactions, regardless of the reversal or chargeback. Shopify may add or remove one or more types of cards as a supported payment card at any time without prior notice to you.”

The agreement also states:

“You acknowledge that you provide this personal information regarding you and yours customers at your own risk.”

So, what DOES all this legal mumbo jumbo mean? In a phrase: Shopify isn’t responsible for bad transactions, nor any personal data problems (hacks) that may arise. Sound sketchy? Perhaps. But nearly all — if not all — payment processors protect themselves in this manner because it’s the right business decision.

Connect With An Online Sales Lawyer

Kelly Warner helps online entrepreneurs. An Internet law firm, we partner with startups, established companies and individuals on issues related to online reputation, e-commerce, marketing, privacy and intellectual property. We’ also assist people with issues related to Shopify and Stripe. To learn more about our practice, head here. Ready to talk? Get in touch today.

A Crash Course In Dietary Supplement Law For Online Marketers

dietary supplement law

The dietary supplement business is booming. Thanks to plug-n-play e-commerce engines like Amazon, folks are flocking to establish foot holes in the niche. But the industry is not without its headaches. Let’s take three minutes to review some legal issues germane to the space.

Dietary Supplement Law Tip #1: Mind The DSHEA

In 1994, after several failed attempts, U.S. politicians passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Its purpose? DSHEA legally defines “dietary supplements” and delineates labeling and logistical parameters for the industry.

Why Some People Hate DSHEA

A notoriously controversial law, opponents say it favors dietary supplement manufacturers and allows for dangerous products to hit shelves without sufficient testing.

Important Takeaways from the DSHEA

  • Dietary supplement is legally defined as “a product taken by mouth that contains a ‘dietary ingredient’ intended to supplement” one’s nutritional intake. Dietary ingredients may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites. Dietary supplements can also be extracts or concentrates, and may be packaged as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, liquids, or powders.
  • DESHEA exempts tobacco as a dietary supplement.
  • Dietary supplements are categorized as food, except for the purposes of drug definition.
  • The following items must be included on dietary supplements:
    1. Ingredients (w/ amounts);
    2. Intended Use (all intended use claims must be based on accepted scientific evidence);
    3. Safety Information (including contraindications, side effects, possible reactions and interactions);
    4. Use Instructions (proper dosage and other ingestion guidance);
    5. Company Information (manufacturer, production source and batch info)
  • Different rules apply for ingredients and supplements released before 1994 and those released after, though the variants are too nuanced for this article. If you think your dietary supplement product may have a release-date-related issue, explain your exact situation to an attorney who can point you in the right direction.
  • A whole lot of people despise DSHEA because they feel it gives dietary supplement companies carte blanche to endanger the public. On the topics, a famous naysayer famously opined: “The deal that DSHEA and NCCAM made with the public was this: Let the supplement industry have free reign to market untested products with unsupported claims, and then we’ll fund reliable studies to arm the public with scientific information so they can make good decisions for themselves. This “experiment” (really just a gift to the supplement industry) has been a dismal failure. The result has been an explosion of the supplement industry flooding the marketplace with useless products and false claims.” – Steven Paul Novella, prominent skeptic and clinical neurologist

Dietary Supplement Law Tip #2: Vet Suppliers Like Your Financial Security Depends On It (Because It May)

The first step to dietary supplement millions is vetting. A whole lot of it. Especially when dealing with overseas manufacturers. Remember, a factory in China (or most places outside of the U.S.) is under no obligation to observe U.S. standards.

And here’s the truly tricky part: some foreign suppliers will feign compliance to get a job. When it happens, cost-effective legal resources are few and far between. Bottom line: don’t trust a supplier’s word. Vet, vet, vet!

And here’s the truly tricky part: some foreign suppliers will feign compliance to get a job. When it happens, cost-effective legal resources are few and far between. Bottom line: don’t trust a supplier’s word. Vet, vet, vet!

So, how do you dodge shady manufacturers? If possible, hook up with an inspector in the manufacturing country. Have him or her do on-site visits; boots-on-the-ground due diligence. Moreover, it’s a plus to have a “translator” on your side. After all, as they say, a lot is lost in translation — both linguistically and sometimes culturally.

Dietary Supplement Law Tip #3: Comply With FTC Marketing Regulations

Think of the Federal Trade Commission as America’s consumer watchdog. If you market to U.S. residents, you’re beholden to FTC regulations and guidelines.

And though the dietary supplement industry is semi-self-regulatory, brands can’t ignore industry standards. To that end, marketers have developed various dietary supplement disclosures to protect against FDA and FTC actions, the most popular being:

“This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

Dietary Supplement Law Tip #4: Comply With FDA Standards

Dietary supplements are ingestibles, which means sellers must keep up-to-date on Food and Drug Administration rulings and decrees. Maintaining can be difficult because the list of banned substances is ever-changing.

To avoid an FDA action, keep up-to-date with the latest standards. How?

  • Set up Google alerts for ingredients contained in your dietary supplements; spend a half hour a day reading through them. If something pops up, take action ASAP.
  • Partner with a dietary supplement lawyer. He or she can be your regulatory watchdog and alert you of upcoming changes. Moreover, attorneys may be able to help tweak your business model to increase your profit potential (and asset protection).
  • Take 2 minutes a day to check out the FDA’s website. Whenever the agency takes action, a notice is posted online.

Dietary Supplement Law Tip #5: Consult Professionals About Structure-Function Claims

The FTC and Attorneys General — a.k.a., the people who can sue for “unfair and deceptive marketing” — are super sensitive about structure-function claims. So, what’s a structure-function claim, you ask? Basically, it’s any statement that addresses how a product affects the body. Classic structure-function claims include:

  1. “Calcium builds strong bones.”
  2. “PRODUCT X helps reduce cancer.”
  3. “St. John’s Wort minimizes anxiety.”
  4. “WEIGHT LOSS PRODUCT will naturally reduce your appetite.”

Marketing campaigns that include structure-function claims should always be audited by an attorney before launch. Why? Because if you cross the compliance line, you may be saddled with a huge fine.

Who Can I Call With My Dietary Supplement Business Questions?

Kelly Warner helps clients overcome e-commerce issues. We’re a team of top-rated attorneys, techs and marketing aficionados who’ve assisted scores of online sellers with everything from FTC compliance to listing hijackings. Head here to the online marketing / e-commerce law section of our website. If you’re ready to speak with a dietary supplement law fixer, get in touch today.

Dietary Supplement Law: Court Says Re-seller Is Counterfeiter

dietary supplement law
A recent dietary supplement law conflict will likely affect similar cases in the future.

Dietary supplement counterfeit claim news: A judge awarded 5-Hour Energy — an over-the-counter drink sold at Walgreens or CVS — over $20 million dollars after third-party distributors took liberties with the brand’s labeling.

Anyone involved in the sale or marketing of supplements should take 3 minutes to read about this case. It’s serves as a reminder that hyper-aggressive sales tactics can decimate profits.

Dietary Supplement Law: Counterfeit Dispute

5-Hour Energy usually reaches store shelves through re-sellers and third-party marketers. The lawsuit we’re about to discuss involved one such deal that went awry.

In 2009, Living Essentials granted a small California business the exclusive distribution rights for Mexico. New packaging and labels tailored to Spanish-speaking consumers — plus discounted stock options — were all part of the deal.

What went wrong?

Well, according to Living Essentials, the pair initiated a scam that involved:

  • Selling the Spanish-labeled products at higher prices than the English-labeled products, in the United States instead of Mexico;
  • Selling its supply to U.S. distributors who replaced the 5-Hour Energy label with their own brands’ labels.

Did The Distributor Break A Contract By Reselling Products?

Living Essentials (LE) felt their Mexico distribution partners were violating parts of the Lanham Act. As far as LE saw it, the defendants knowingly produced fake goods at Living Essentials’ expense.  The defendants, conversely, insisted that they operated within the contract’s bounds.

And it’s with those viewpoints that the two parties embarked down Lawsuit Lane.

Now, as far as dietary supplements go, 5-Hour Energy is a huge player, so the legal battle fell into the “high-profile” category. And we all know what high profile lawsuits look like: protracted, nuanced and teeming with motions. This particular case lasted four years and involved fastidious vendor investigations, counterfeit-related court orders, and jurisdictional changes; plus, the defendants clawed deep during appeals, involving over 70 different entities.

Court Makes Dietary Supplement Law Ruling: Distributor Didn’t Have Resell Rights

Ultimately, the plaintiffs, Living Essentials, won this dietary supplement counterfeit case. In a 94-page opinion, the court explained how the defendants violated the Lanham Act by running a private label side business that contravened the original distribution contract. Interestingly, the Court also laid blame at the feet of a convenience store that sold the re-branded products and ordered it to pay part of the damages.

Dealing With Dietary Supplement Law Issues?

Our firm helps private label sellers and marketers with dietary supplement law issues. We answer questions, write contracts, help clients defend themselves against FTC investigations, represent counterfeit victims, and sort out listing hijackings.

To put it simply: We resolve issues that plague online marketers and sellers.

To learn more about our firm, head here. Ready to consult? Head here.

3 Good Reasons To Start An FBA Business

FBA business happyThinking of starting a Fulfillment by Amazon business? Smart idea. In 2015 alone, FBA sellers shipped over a billion items to more than 185 countries, and experts predict it’ll be a multi-billion-dollar industry by 2020.

What Is an FBA Business?

FBA stands for Fulfillment by Amazon. How does it work? Here’s an (admittedly oversimplified) explanation.

  • Step One: Third party sellers (i.e., work-from-home entrepreneurs) either find or create a product. Typically, people source items from Chinese manufacturers because it’s infinitely cheaper than stateside options. Yes, most folks would prefer to use American manufacturers (understandably); but the price point is almost always too high for startups.
  • Step Two: Once the inventory is ready, the seller has it shipped directly to an Amazon warehouse.
  • Step Three: Sellers advertise their products on Amazon and elsewhere online.
  • Step Four: When a customer places an order through Amazon.com, Amazon handles the shipping and inventory logistics.

At first, it may sound logistically complicated, but, typically, after reading a few websites (and books) on the subject, most people are up and running.

The Benefits of Running an FBA Business

Starting an FBA business is a great decision. Not only is the profit potential high, but e-commerce ventures can, theoretically, improve your happiness quotient.

How? Let’s break it down.

Less Stress

Of course, no business is without its stressors. But by letting Amazon handle quotidian administrative duties — returns, inventory management, shipping — many typical headaches associated with running a retail business are removed.

More Money

In many ways, an FBA business is the ideal residual income opportunity because (depending on the product) it falls into the “set it and forget it” model. Now, of course, the more you market, the better your products will sell.

Fewer Responsibilities

Again, since Amazon assumes responsibility for shipping, returns, and warehousing administration, sellers have fewer logistical elements to administer. Plus, the e-commerce model is super scalable; you can start a business for as little as $400; plus, you don’t have to bother with fixed assets. In a statement, a company spokesperson explained:

“With FBA, we take care of the order fulfillment, customer service and product returns, so that sellers can focus on growing their businesses and sourcing products that delight customers. In 2015, sellers worldwide adopting the FBA service grew more than 50 percent year-over-year. We are getting a tremendous response from sellers and we will continue to listen to their feedback to make the FBA service even better.”

Less stress, more money, and fewer responsibilities is pretty much the recipe for happiness. So, there you have it, starting an FBA business CAN lead to a more comfortable, stable life.

We Can Answer Your FBA Business Questions

Interested in moving forward with an FBA venture? Need assistance with an e-commerce issue, like account suspension or counterfeit problems? If yes, get in touch today.

To read more about laws and news that affect the private label e-commerce space, head here.

Yes, Amazon Sues Fake Reviewers

Fake Review Law and Lawyer
The Legal Low Down On Fraudulent Feedback
Online Marketing Legal Reminder: Avoid using and writing paid reviews for Amazon.com. Why? You could be sued or banned!

Amazon is cracking down on phony feedback. Not only is it suing fake review services, but also suspending complicit seller accounts. In fact, just the other day, Amazon announced a lawsuit against a group of third-party sellers who used “sock puppet accounts” to post phony, positive reviews on their product pages.

Recent Action: Amazon Sued Phony Appraisal Services

A few weeks ago, Amazon sued five websites servicing the fake feedback “ecosystem.” An Amazon spokesperson explained:

“We will continue to pursue legal action against the root cause of reviews abuse — the sellers and manufacturers who create the demand for fraudulent reviews, as well as the ecosystem of individuals and organizations who supply fraudulent reviews.”

Ongoing Dragnet Against Fake Review Services

Amazon is obsessed with review integrity because customer posts fuel the e-commerce engine. To that end, last year, the company litigiously targeted parties that allegedly contributed to review corruption. Since then, the online retail giant has targeted about one-thousand phony feedback operations and forced many offline.

Is Amazon’s Review Integrity Initiative Working?

Are Amazon’s attempts to stomp out phony feedback working? Depends on how you assess the situation. Sure, more people now know about the company’s anti-fake review stance, prompting some marketers to stop using them. But, due to the pop-up-shop nature of review services, attempts at extermination have ultimately proven to be whack-a-mole level frustrating.

Need Help With An Amazon Review Problem?

User reviews are essential to the e-commerce success formula. For sellers, the quality and quantity of customer feedback can mean the difference between success and failure.

And unfortunately, unscrupulous marketers use disparaging reviews as a negative SEO tactic.

If you’ve been hit, and you’re ready to right a wrong, get in touch immediately. Our team of attorneys and techs has helped tons of people and businesses overcome various review issues. We can help you, too.

Don’t wait. The longer phony reviews fester, the more damage they can do.

Get in touch immediately to get back on a profitable path, free of fake review problems.

Native Advertising Rules Are Now In Effect (And The FTC Is On The Hunt)!

native advertising law

Don’t Let The FTC Decimate Your Profits

A quick reminder.

Native advertising rules are now in effect!

At the end of 2015, the Federal Trade Commission published native advertising (promotional content designed to mimic editorial content) guidelines.

Before the release, websites profited from native advertising blocks that fell under headlines like “Promoted Content” — basically, headers that disguised links as internal links. Or, to put it another way, click bait.

However, despite the regulation’s release, Adweek recently reported that about 70% of websites using native advertising are flouting FTC guidelines.

So, what happens if officials catch you snubbing online marketing rules and regulations? Well, they can sue you, fine you and make you pay.

Native Advertising Startup Opportunity Alert!

Another interesting tidbit to pop out of Adweek’s piece? Experts estimate that portions of the native advertising niche will generate as much as $53.4 billion by 2020.

Put Me In Touch With An Online Marketing Lawyer, Pronto!

Unaware of the new native advertising guidelines? Click here for a summary. For those in a rush, the gist is this: Make sure native advertising is distinguishable as advertising.

Are you sure you’re 100% FTC compliant? If not, get in touch. We may be able to help you avoid an FTC investigation — and subsequent fines.

Article Sources

Swant, M. (2016, April 8). Publishers Are Largely Not Following the FTC’s Native Ad Guidelines. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/publishers-are-largely-not-following-ftcs-native-ad-guidelines-170705

Don’t Use “All Natural” & Five Other Marketing Rules

Image Credit: http://www.gratisography.com marketing rules
Let’s talk about a few marketing rules. Image Credit: http://www.gratisography.com
Unless you want to be saddled with a huge FTC fine, be careful using lines like “100% Natural” or “All Natural” on packaging and in marketing materials.

Five Companies Censured For Mislabeling Natural Products

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission censured a handful of companies for making false and unsubstantiated claims. The targeted parties used the terms “100% Natural” or “All Natural” even though the products contained synthetic preservatives like dimethicone or phenoxyethanol.

The targeted parties used the terms “100% Natural” or “All Natural” even though the products contained synthetic preservatives like dimethicone or phenoxyethanol.

“All Natural” Marketing Rules

Believe it or not, there isn’t a legal definition for “natural.”

Before 62% of us were self-diagnosed Celiacs and gourmet supermarkets were a mere gleam in Robin Leach’s monocle, the rules surrounding “all natural” were as loose as Las Vegas.

But now?

Forget the Age of Aquarius, we’re living in the Age of All Natural — and regulators are particular about how marketers deploy the phrase.

Here’s the “all natural” bar:

Avoid phrases like “100% Natural” or “All Natural” unless you’re certain that every single ingredient in the product comes from Mother Nature. Furthermore, don’t take a manufacturer’s word for it;  foreign factories are beholden to different regulatory standards and aren’t always upfront about the secret sauce.

Jessica Rich, the FTC’s director of Bureau of Consumer Protection cautioned:

“‘All natural’ or ‘100% natural’ means just that—no artificial ingredients or chemicals. Companies should take a lesson from these cases.”

Five Other Marketing Rules To Know & Follow

  • Posting negative, false reviews on competitors’ product listings could easily be deemed trade libel or defamation. In worst case scenarios, you could be successfully sued. More than that, using fake, disparaging reviews is lying — a clear violation of the FTC’s “unfair and deceptive” marketing rules.
  • Officials have censured brands and marketers over fake news sites — especially ones that used unauthorized imagery of professional anchors and newsreaders.
  • Use #Ad, #Sponsored or #Paid hashtags on all social media promotional campaigns. The standard is often ignored, without punishment. But the FTC recently fired a warning shot; Retailer Lord & Taylor took the bullet.
  • Clearly label native advertising. Vague headers (like the popular “Promoted Stories”) don’t cut it anymore.
  • Don’t buy fake reviews. Reviews are an incredibly important part of the online marketing magic sauce, but do yourself a favor: don’t buy fake reviews! You could get sued. Amazon does NOT mess around when it comes to phony feedback and has not only filed civil claims against fake review companies, but has also sued individual reviewers!

Marketing Compliance Help, Please

Concerned you’re not operating on the safe side of the marketing legal fence?

To find out, set up a marketing audit. It’s a lot less painful than a tax audit — A LOT. And instead of looking for ways to take money from you, a marketing auditor may find ways to put money back in your pocket.

Get in touch today to learn more about online marketing audits and how it little they cost.

Article Sources

Lorenzetti, L. (2016, April 12). FTC Goes After 5 ‘Natural’ Companies for False Claims. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from http://fortune.com/2016/04/13/ftc-natural-personal-care-false/