Opening Statement by Senator Mark Pryor On Advertising Trends

Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Insurance and Automotive Safety

Senator Mark Pryor today chaired a hearing on advertising trends and consumer protection. The hearing explored what the Federal Trade Commission is or should be doing to protect consumers from various forms of deceptive advertising, including deceptive testimonials, bloggers paid by advertisers to endorse products, false claims used in health, safety and weight loss advertisements, fake news, deceptive advertising of “green” products and “bait and switch” advertising. Pryor is Chairman of the Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Below is his prepared opening statement:

I’d like to welcome our expert panel of witnesses representing the Federal Trade Commission, the consumer advocacy community, and the advertising community. I look forward to your testimony.

During last week’s hearing on frauds and scams tied to the economic downturn, we focused on the FTC’s enforcement actions and statutory authority. Today we will examine current trends in deceptive advertising and the federal government’s efforts to protect consumers.

Over and over again, consumers purchase products from companies that claim to make us a little trimmer, stronger or healthier. If these advertising claims were just about eliminating pimples or fat, it would be one thing. However, many of the deceptive practices employed today are increasingly putting safety at risk. I particularly want to commend the FTC and FDA’s sweep last year that brought down several companies advertising a fake cancer cure. These companies preyed on vulnerable patients and put these individuals’ lives on the line to make a quick buck. Today, companies are even more desperate for sales as families cling a little tighter to their dollars.

Today, we will explore the negative impact deceptive advertising can have on customers and the marketplace. We will hear about new trends in advertising, including “bait and switch” techniques, advertisements portrayed as news articles, bloggers paid by advertisers to publish positive reviews, false or testimonial advertising, “free” product advertising, and false or deceptive advertising of “green” products.

I hope that through testimony and questioning we can determine the extent that consumers are harmed by deceptive advertising, whether the connections between advertisers and endorsers are transparent enough for consumers, how to improve the coordination between federal and state governments, and finally, what Congress can do to strengthen the FTC’s ability to protect consumers.

We cannot allow customer and marketplace confusion. If dishonest companies insist on bogus claims about their products, the federal government must step up to ensure information on our airwaves or the Internet is accurate and truthful.  This allows individuals to make informed decisions and it preserves the overall integrity of our marketplace.