What it actually means:
Products "help" you with a goal in the same way your drunken cousin "helps" you move. These words only serve to make any health claims just ambiguous enough that their parent companies won't see the business end of a class-action lawsuit. Maybe you're an ice cream manufacturer, and you claim that your ice cream helps reduce violent uncontrollable rage. "Yeah, who doesn't like ice cream? It probably does help reduce manslaughter." That's the logic.
Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Baskin-Robbins
"Murder isn't one of the 31 flavors. That's just scientific fact."
New Balance was caught making such a claim back in 2011, stating that just wearing their shoes helped people to lose weight and improve their health. They claimed that their product "uses hidden balance board technology that encourages muscle activation in the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves, which in turn burns calories." In fact, they were selling regular sneakers and adding a very helpful, "if you exercise regularly, you'll lose weight, but also buy our shoes, please."
In 2010, Kellogg was hit with two separate legal actions over their "helpful" ad copy. In June, they were reprimanded by the FTC for claiming that Rice Krispies helped improve children's immune systems through the use of vitamins, A, B, C, and E. And this was just a couple months after they had been sued over their claim that Frosted Mini-Wheats helped children become more attentive, by up to 20 percent. When the FTC dug into their so-called clinical trials, they discovered that very few children -- about one in seven -- actually saw the benefits Kellogg claimed. Under the threat of heavy fines, Kellogg promptly dropped the claims and presumably their advertising team.
Immunity to what? To bullshit?
There's no official rubric for these kinds of statements. Even if we're all clear on what counts as sufficient clinical evidence for a claim, the rules about false advertising are opaque at best. The standard of proof for claims of false advertising is that any average Joe could fall for it. But that isn't easy to figure out either, because exaggeration is so common in advertising. That means the huge, obvious lies aren't actionable, while the smaller lies are, because someone might actually fall for those.
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