As part of its ongoing nationwide crackdown on misleading endorsements in advertising, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged the home security company ADT with misrepresenting that paid endorsements from safety and technology experts were independent reviews. Under an agreed-upon settlement, ADT is prohibited from misrepresenting paid endorsements as independent reviews in the future.
ADT manufactures and markets the ADT Pulse home security and monitoring system and various other security products and services. The FTC's administrative complaint alleges that ADT paid spokespeople to demonstrate and review the ADT Pulse on NBC's Today Show, as well as other television and radio news programs and talk shows across the country, and in blogs and other online material. ADT, the FTC alleges, misrepresented that the reviews were independent, and failed to disclose that the experts were being paid by ADT to promote the Pulse system.
"It's hard for consumers to make good buying decisions when they think they're getting independent expert advice as part of an impartial news segment and have no way of knowing they are actually watching a sales pitch," said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "When a paid endorser appears in a news or talk show segment with the host of that program, the relationship with the advertiser must be clearly disclosed."
ADT paid three spokespersons, including a child safety expert, a home security expert, and a technology expert, more than $300,000 to promote the ADT Pulse, with one spokesperson receiving more than $200,000. Two of those spokespersons also received a free ADT Pulse security system, valued at approximately $4,000, and free monthly monitoring service, according to the complaint. In exchange, the spokespersons appeared on more than 40 different television and radio programs nationwide and posted blogs and other material online.
ADT set up media interviews for the endorsers through its public relations firms and booking agents – often providing reporters and news anchors with suggested interview questions, and background video, also known as b-roll, according to the complaint. The paid ADT endorsers were introduced by program hosts as experts in child safety, home security, or technology, usually with no mention of any connection to ADT. The endorsers sometimes demonstrated child safety, home security, or technology products other than the ADT Pulse, adding to the impression that they were providing an impartial, expert review of the products.
The proposed order prohibits ADT from misrepresenting that any discussion or demonstration of a security or monitoring product or service is an independent review provided by an impartial expert; requires ADT to clearly and prominently disclose, in connection with the advertising of a home security or monitoring product or service, a material connection, if one exists, between an endorser and the company; and requires the company to promptly remove reviews and endorsements that have been misrepresented as independently provided by an impartial expert or that fail to disclose a material connection between ADT and an endorser.