Truth in Advertising
Breaking the law
California prosecutors recently filed a false advertising lawsuit against lifestyle brand Goop. The online retailer, helmed by Gwyneth Paltrow, settled for $145,000. The prosecutors specifically listed three wellness products in the filing.
Quite frankly, the products listed, seemed to be marketed in a manner consistent with wellness advertising everywhere. That is, the description of the products included possible health benefits. Two yoni stones said to “balance hormones,” amongst other things, and an essential oil blend claiming to “prevent depression.”
The lawsuit stated this amounted to false advertising using unfounded claims. No medical evidence exists to support or contradict the purported health benefits of the products. Other wellness-related companies, such as DoTerra and Young Living, have had similar legal trouble. Both were reprimanded for representing their essential oils as pharmaceuticals.
While wellness products and complementary therapies gain popularity, research remains elusive. Many such health-related offerings stem from traditional healing practices from around the world. Practices that pre-date modern medicine. However, these types of remedies rarely have strong (if any) scientific research to support them.
Massage therapy, for one, still has a long way to go in terms of quality evidence. For example, the massage industry has claimed for years that massage decreases the stress hormone cortisol. In fact, the current body of evidence does not support this claim. A 2010 meta-analysis concluded that the evidence at that time was inconclusive at best. A quick search of studies since then still show conflicting results. Some positive, some neutral, and some negative.
Massage therapy carries with it a long history of other unsupported claims including:
- Massage releases toxins, which has never been studied. Indeed “toxin” has not even been defined in this context.
- Massage increases circulation, which has conflicting evidence.
- Massage improves immunity, which has not been well studied. (Although promising preliminary studies exist.)
- Massage releases endorphins, which only has one study of 12 people behind it.
Massage therapists do not typically make these statements about massage with the intention of deceiving. In fact, many schools still teach their students these “facts.” As research improves and the body of evidence grows, marketing language should, hopefully, become more accurate as well.
In our own content, we try to be very careful and clear around our language. In keeping with scientific practices, when discussing the benefits of our services, we use the term “can” when a benefit has some decent research behind it. We use the term “may” when less evidence exists. If almost zero research exists we try to highlight that and discuss instead the tradition or theory of the work. We avoid concrete terms such as “proven” or “will,” because nothing is 100%. We also provide links to published research when applicable.
Wellness products can be a little trickier. We only carry products that we believe will have some benefit to our clients whether for pain relief, stress relief, or just plain fun. Certainly, not all products have gone through rigorous scientific testing to support their efficacy. However, we do need to describe the intended use of the product.
Foam rollers actually do have some supporting research. The Cranio Cradle and Thera Cane do not. Some essential oils have research into their effects, most don’t. In these cases, we try to use phrases such as “intended for headache relief” or “people use this product to boost energy.” Therefore highlighting the benefit without making a health claim.
It can get tricky, and we probably do it wrong sometimes. However we make a concerted effort to use accurate and clear communication in our marketing. Some health advertising tactics we have seen seem quite unethical. For example, fear-based campaigns, characterizing something as a “miracle cure,” or capitalizing on people’s insecurities.
At Nimbus, we are about helping people in their wellness journeys. We like to think of ourselves as warm, welcoming, and reassuring. We like to think of Nimbus as a safe, supportive, knowledgeable resource for complementary care. And we think what we do helps people in a meaningful way without us having to embellish. No gimmicks, no fads, no fakery.