Last week, Gonzalo wrote about the letter Truth in Advertising sent to the FTC, urging the Commission to investigate Diageo’s use of influencers to market Ciroc vodka on Instagram. We also learned last week that the Humane Society sent a similar letter to the FTC requesting that Commission initiate an investigation of Pilgrim’s Pride for its treatment of chickens. These complaints got us thinking – how often are third parties successful in instigating regulatory activity?
Of course, without knowing the facts, it is impossible to know whether the complaint allegations have merit. We do know, however, that many similar complaints have been filed asking the FTC to look into a company’s practices. For example, with regard to the subject of animal welfare, we have seen complaints that include allegations of deceptive advertising relating to puppy sellers and pork producers. Similar claims have also been filed by PETA (example here) and Mercy for Animals (example here). These complaints have not usually led to litigation or negotiated consent orders.
That is not to say that these complaints do not result in some action. For example, last year, after four consumer groups urged the FTC to investigate and bring enforcement actions regarding the use of influencers on Instagram, the FTC sent more than 90 letters to companies and influencers, reminding the recipients of their legal obligations. And in 2016, after HSUS urged the FTC to take action against companies claiming “faux fur” (example here), the FTC released a blog post warning consumers about the risks (details here).
Even without FTC action, complaints themselves may have an effect on the company involved. As another example, in 2013, Tyson Foods announced a commitment to the humane treatment of animals and formed an independent advisory panel to help them pursue this mission after the Humane Society and the Animal Legal Defense Fund both filed FTC complaints against them. Full story here.
Also, in the area of dietary supplement advertising, the FTC has maintained a strong interest in the crackdown against false advertising of health claims, and they have taken action when urged to do so by third parties. CSPI filed a complaint asking for the FTC and FDA to file claims against dietary supplements holding themselves out as opioid withdrawal aids and were successful in getting the action pursued (here).
So, while third party complaints don’t always (or even usually) lead to formal enforcement action, they do often result in action.