FTC Settlement Turns Down the Volume on Deceptive Sound Amplifier Ads
Defendants could not back up efficacy claims made for their MSA 30X device
A set of Florida-based entities and their owner are settling Federal Trade Commission charges that advertisements for their MSA 30X sound amplifier deceptively claimed the device is “independently tested to help you hear up to 30 times better.” Under a court order settling the FTC’s complaint, the defendants will be barred from making similar unsupported claims in the future, and from representing their claims are based on scientific evidence if they are not.
According to the FTC’s complaint, corporate defendants Global Concepts Limited, Inc., which did business under the name Global TV Concepts, Ltd., GCL Product Holdings, LLC, and MSA 30X LLC deceptively advertised MSA 30X to consumers nationwide, in violation of the FTC Act. Individual defendant Laurie Braden is the principal owner and officer of the corporate defendants, which are based in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
The FTC alleges that since at least 2012, Braden and the corporate defendants advertised and sold MSA 30X, a small, rechargeable electronic wearable sound amplifier product. Through 2017, the defendants sold nearly three million of the devices, including through retailers such as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, generating total sales of $47.2 million. The defendants also advertised the amplifiers directly to consumers via TV ads, with a toll-free number consumers could call to place an order, and several company-owned websites, including a Spanish-language site.
The TV ads featured older consumers frustrated with not being able to hear in settings such as a restaurant or at home watching television. Their hearing difficulties are resolved, however, upon using the MSA 30X. For example, in one commercial, a wife complains about how loud her husband has the television turned up. With the aid of the MSA 30X, the husband is able to watch television at a more moderate volume while still claiming “to hear everything clearly.” The TV ads also claimed the device was “independently tested” to help consumers “hear up to 30 times better.” The websites contained similar claims.
According to the FTC, however, the defendants did not possess adequate evidence that the MSA 30X actually helped consumers hear better in the advertised circumstances. Likewise, the FTC alleges defendants did not possess independent tests showing the MSA 30X helped consumers hear thirty times better.
The proposed court order settling the FTC’s charges first addresses the allegations that the defendants’ ads included false or unsubstantiated claims, including that the MSA 30X: 1) allows users who have trouble hearing to clearly hear when watching TV at a moderate volume; 2) helps users hear up to 30 time better; and 3) lets users who have trouble hearing hear clearly, without missing a word, in crowded places like movie theaters or restaurants. Accordingly, the order bars the defendants from making such claims unless they are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
Next, the order prohibits the defendants from making any efficacy claims about any device, not just the MSA 30X, unless the claim is not misleading, and at the time it’s made, the defendants have the scientific evidence necessary to support it. The order also prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting test results or studies, and requires them to keep records of certain human clinical tests and studies used to back up such claims.
Finally, the order imposes a judgment of $47,203,036 against the defendants in favor of the FTC, which will be partially suspended after they pay $500,000. If the defendants are later found to have misrepresented their financial condition to the FTC, the total amount of the judgment will become due.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and stipulated final order was 2-0. The FTC filed the complaint and proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated final injunctions/orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.