ON AD REVIEW
BBB ADVERTISING REVIEW: 100 YEARS OF FALSE CLAIMS IN DALLAS
As the BBB in Dallas approaches its centennial anniversary this September, it is reminded of its original mission of fighting false advertising and the fact that some things never change.
On September 7, 1920, Hugo Swan became the first manager for the Dallas Better Business Bureau. Working with the Dallas Ad League, now known as the Dallas American Advertising Federation, Swan went on to create one of the largest and oldest BBB’s in North America. The original purpose: pursue truth in advertising.
From challenging fake fur advertising to COVID-19 cures, BBB has seen a lot over the years.
Some of the earliest BBB casework in Dallas was regarding the misrepresentations of textiles. Examples included skunk fur being sold as “Alaskan Sable” coats or “wool blankets” which were actually made of cotton.
Since advertising, as a practice, pervades all industries, the Dallas BBB’s century of investigations have spanned everything from oil investment schemes, Ponzi schemes, fake sales, and even the occasional medical quackery.
While the subject of its advertising investigations have varied throughout, few priorities have been more important than the challenges of advertising that risk the health and safety of consumers.
One of BBB Dallas’ earliest investigations into advertised medical claims comes from the 1930s when BBB investigated a business selling soda tablets as a medicinal cure for indigestion. A bottle of tablets sold for $2.50, a 100% mark-up, and they didn’t work.
Also, in the 1950s, BBB worked to warn the public about the false claims being made about Doc Estep’s “Atomotrone,” a box fitted with electric lights and colored glass filters, said to cure people of congenital Bright’s disease, correcting irregular heart action, kidney infection, malfunctioning liver and gall bladders, blood clots in the brain, tumors, etc. Eventually, with help from BBB Mr. Estep was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
Decades later, BBB still challenges contemporary “snake oil,” investigating many claims about products like magnetic balancing bracelets, brain boosting supplements, salt rock lamps that cure just about everything including Swine Flu and now fake COVID-19 cures.
The BBB in Dallas challenges hundreds of claims each year made by businesses in North Texas, many of which are voluntarily discontinued or modified at the organization’s request. However, its centennial year has unfortunately provided a unique opportunity to revisit advertising practices that can have more immediate and dire consequences, health-related claims.
COVID-19 & BBB
It’s hard to think of any aspect of life that hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19. BBB is no different. The non-profit saw a massive increase in complaints and inquiries involving price gouging, insincere offers to sell high-demand products (toilet paper & face masks), and false COVID cures starting in March 2020.
Below are just two examples.
Waygan is a business headquartered in China that advertises a location in Dallas, Texas. However, a basic street search shows a bare brick building with a sign stating “PhysicalAddress.com”.
According to its advertising, Waygan sold the “Best Oxygen Machine for COVID19”, along with several products designed to kill viruses via Ultraviolet (UV) light.
Once communication with Waygan was established, the company’s representative admitted the business is not registered to conduct commerce in Texas nor does it actually have a location in Dallas.
As for the concerning claims? The company decided to discontinue the claims rather than try to prove them.
As of August 5, 2020, the business still has an “F” Rating.
PRICE GOUGING ALLEGATIONS
HECDistribution.com is a Dallas-based company selling appliance parts. However, once COVID19 cases started to rise, the business started advertising hard-to-find cleaning and sanitizing products like your basic Clorox wipes. Starting in April, BBB saw a spike to 504 consumer inquires to BBB about the business, and then 682 in May. BBB has received 2,384 inquiries year-to-date.
The issue arose when HEC began charging $90.09 for a three-pack of Clorox wipes which constituted an increase of OVER 600% above the average price.
Historically, the Office of the Texas Attorney General has sued businesses engaged in selling items for 30% or more than standard rates.