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Smells Like Mean Spirit?

Bargain airline sued over Shortcut Security line

Bare Boned

If your company’s brand is all about the bargain, you can expect some to identify your company with cheaper services and the exclusion of certain benefits. Spirit Airlines, however, compounded its bargain-fare image by charging what many consider to be high rates for every possible amenity from baggage weight to seat assignments, and even for what many consider to be the God-given right of carry-on luggage.

This approach may have been a sound business decision by the numbers, but it earned plenty of passenger ire: Spirit, for a couple of years, was racking up record numbers of customer complaints before the U.S. Department of Transportation. It even became a running joke on Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show.

It’s Making Me Wait

Still, Spirit can’t seem to catch a break.

Earlier this month, the company was sued by one Cintya Larios Guzman, a Virginia resident who booked a flight on Spirit from Los Angeles International to Dulles International.

Seeking to avoid the “general mayhem that accompanies flying out of LAX,” – her words, not ours – Larios Guzman claims to have paid an extra $8 to Spirit for a special “Shortcut Security” option. According to the suit, the option is presented by Spirit in its marketing “as a way to bypass the normal airport security line for a person who is running late or just does not want to stand in the normal security line.”

Larios Guzman claims that once she checked in and headed toward the security checkpoint, she asked a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker where Spirit’s “shortcut” line was. The employee told her that no such line existed, and she would have to join the general security queue.

The Takeaway

“Apart from almost missing her flight,” the suit claims, “Plaintiff also suffered monetary damages as a result of Spirit’s advertising and sale of the ‘Shortcut Security’ option when no such ‘Shortcut Security’ was available.”

The suit alleges common-law breach of contract claims, unjust enrichment claims, and violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act against Spirit due to the purported offering of the Shortcut Security option. Larios Guzman is also asking for an injunction to keep Spirit from offering the shortcut in the future to other potential passengers.

The suit alleges, “It is the TSA that controls the security access to an airport and unless a person has the TSA ‘precheck’ designation, they must go through the same general TSA security line as passengers who did not purchase any ‘Shortcut Security’ service.” It will be interesting to see how Spirit justifies the promotion and advertising of the Shortcut Security service in response to the plaintiff’s suit and allegations that only the TSA can shorten security check times through its own process. Nevertheless, this suit will serve as another reminder to businesses that the promotion and advertising of valuable and rare benefits to their customers can certainly garner business, but such services must be compliant and ultimately possible, to avoid risk of a lawsuit.

NARB Shuts Down Goya’s Claim of ‘Puerto Rico’s Favorite’

Ronzoni owner prevails in dispute over “unsupported” ad tag

Boricua Battle

When last we left Goya Foods and its rival and 800-pound pasta gorilla Riviana Foods (manufacturer of Ronzoni pastas), the branding titans were locked in a struggle over who had bragging rights to prominence in the Puerto Rico marketplace. Goya had taken to using the tag “La pasta favorita de Puerto Rico” (“Puerto Rico’s favorite pasta”) for its Excelsior pasta brand, and that rubbed Riviana the wrong way.

As we explained back in April 2019, the relatively modest size of Puerto Rico gives the lie to its cultural and economic influence: The Puerto Rican diaspora is the second-largest Hispanic community in the United States, and as such accounts for serious market share. As a result, Riviana wasn’t going to allow Goya to claim the moniker “Puerto Rico’s favorite” without a fight.

Hinchado

It’s a fight that Riviana gave Goya by putting this issue before the National Advertising Division (NAD). In our last report, we outlined how NAD rejected Goya’s claim that its tag was “classic puffery.” Crucially, NAD rejected its argument that “fanciful” language surrounding the tag undercut the need to justify the claim through objective measures.

NAD sided with Riviana and recommended that Goya spike the claim because it offered no data to support it. Goya, feeling ornery, decided to appeal the ruling to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), which ruled in October 2019 that the tag was “an objective preference claim that requires substantiation.”

The Takeaway

Of interest: It’s impossible to know for sure, but from NARB’s press release, it seems that part of Goya’s argument was a claim that the Spanish term favorita carried a different meaning than the English favorite:

“With respect to dictionary definitions,” NARB wrote, “the panel concluded that the Spanish definition offered by the advertiser is consistent with the English definitions cited by the challenger – they all show that ‘favorite’ conveys a message of preference.”

And there’s the central message: No matter what language you write it in, “favorite” is an objective claim that needs support. Goya says that although it is disappointed in the result, “It will comply with the ruling and discontinue the use of ‘La pasta favorita de Puerto Rico’ in connection with Goya’s EXCELSIOR-brand pasta.”

ICYMI: FTC Summarizes Existing Influencer Rules

“New” guidance document will likely disappoint watchdog groups

Come Again?

How many ways can you say the same thing before you go stark raving mad? Ask the folks over at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Earlier this month, the FTC released a new guidance document for online influencers imaginatively titled “Advertising Disclosures Guidance for Online Influencers.”

And you’ve heard most of these guidelines before. “The new publication summarizes the FTC’s existing guidance in this area,” the FTC writes, “including the FTC’s Endorsement Guides and a 2017 question-and-answer document produced by staff.”

(Note: Let us be clear about something. Regardless of the lack of new information, if you are an influencer, or someone who’s working with influencers, you should read the document for reasons that are obvious at this point. And read it again before your next endorsement, whether you were paid for it or not.)

Chronicles

While there doesn’t appear to be any novel legal insight here, there’s history behind this latest effort.

We’ve covered it before, of course: Truth In Advertising Inc.’s (TINA) ongoing campaign to motivate the FTC into action over influencer misbehavior. The watchdog group has been writing letters to the FTC outlining ad violations for more than two years now; it claims to have found “more than 1,400 examples [of violations] across … 20 influencers collectively promoting more than 500 companies.”

And despite FTC letters warning influencers about their infractions, TINA’s continuing complaint is that the FTC isn’t doing much of anything else, which it expressed in its March letter: “It has now been almost two years since the FTC initially notified these influencers of their obligation to refrain from actively deceiving their social media followers,” the letter states. “Yet all but one of them have continued to mislead their fan base … by refusing to consistently and appropriately disclose their material connections to the brands they are promoting.”

The Takeaway

This latest guide document comes after months of pressure from watchdog groups and continued influencer misbehavior. However, it is unlikely watchdog groups such as TINA will be completely satisfied with this new FTC guidance, as this renewed guidance does not demonstrate a planned or current uptick in FTC enforcement.

Nonetheless, online influence is now a recognized commodity. With each passing quarter, it becomes more well-defined and monitored. And as the online influence community continues to grow in prominence, the FTC will likely feel continued pressure to bring more enforcement actions.

It’s hard to imagine how the guidelines could be made any clearer – and eventually the FTC will have to assume that repeat offenders are simply ignoring the rules or can’t understand them in some fundamental way.

So we say to everybody who’s part of this arrangement – influencers, companies and the platforms that connect them – saddle up. You need to embrace an ongoing, thorough, soup-to-nuts evaluation of your adverts, guided by competent and knowledgeable counsel. Or you might be unpleasantly surprised when the FTC finally loses its patience and brings additional enforcement actions against companies and influencers that fail to abide by the FTC guidance.

HEPA King Dyson Tilts at PECO Competitor Before NAD

Molekule Inc. latest competitor to tangle with British behemoth

Sucks to Be Them

For all its high-tech, Britannic cool, Dyson is one of the feistiest brands in the home appliance marketplace.

We’ve been tracking its various brawls for more than two years now, including a series of tussles with upstart American vacuum rival SharkNinja (see here, here and here) in the courts, before the NAD, and before the NARB. Another rival, air-purifier manufacturer Guardian Technologies, also engaged Dyson in a flare-up last year.

And now Dyson’s at it again, this time as challenger, bringing rival Molekule Inc. before NAD over a dizzying set of disputed claims. Molekule is an American air purifier company that seems to echo some of Dyson’s marketing cool, albeit with a dollop of heartwarming backstory. Go check it out.

At the heart of the conflict are two divergent approaches to air purifying technology.

Dyson is all in on High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which it uses in its products; Molekule has heavily invested in Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) filter technology. So when Molekule began making big claims for its products in contrast to HEPA filter performance, Dyson took notice.

Pollution Solution?

Dyson contested several of Molekule’s claims about specific product offerings, including qualitative bioaerosol elimination claims – that PECO “eliminates,” “destroys” or “permanently removes” all indoor air pollution or any specific bioaerosol, for starters, and quantitative claims showing complete bioaerosol elimination. Dyson also took on Molekule’s claim that its PECO products eliminate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – a wide swath of environmental chemicals that may produce eye, nose and throat irritation; nausea; and liver and kidney damage, among other effects.

Finally, Dyson disputed Molekule’s claims regarding its MH1 purifier’s performance in large rooms.

With respect to these claims, NAD ruled “that the evidence provided by the advertiser was insufficiently reliable to provide a reasonable basis for its impactful pollution elimination performance/efficacy claims and recommended that these claims be discontinued.”

HEPsters

Unsurprisingly, Dyson also challenged claims by Molekule that its PECO technology is generally superior to HEPA technology, including taglines such as this one: “Mold and bacteria gather and grow in those HEPA fibers and escape back into the air to continue to do you harm.” Fighting words indeed!

And here, NAD also came down firmly on Dyson’s side, determining that the evidence offered by Molekule “was not sufficient to substantiate claims about . . . Molekule’s comparative superiority claims of PECO versus HEPA (technology or air purifier products as marketed for sale) and recommended they be discontinued.” NAD made similar rulings regarding Dyson’s challenge to Molekule’s allergy and asthma relief claims.

The Takeaway

Facing a table of rulings, Molekule went a la carte: It decided to comply with some of the decision and is seeking to appeal the other parts to NARB. Its advertiser’s statement is perhaps one of the most complex we have seen, but in essence, Molekule has agreed to accept NAD’s rulings with respect to the allergy and asthma claims as well as any “quantified” elimination claims. It plans to appeal NAD’s other findings. One interesting aspect of its planned appeal: Molekule is appealing the ruling regarding its comparisons of HEPA and PECO technology because it “did not intend to make claims about specific devices of competitors, particularly those that combine use of HEPA with other technologies. Molekule intended only to explain that its PECO technology destroys pollutants whereas HEPA technology collects pollutants.” It will be interesting to see where NARB draws the line between general technology and specific product claims.

Check Out Our Latest Blog Posts

Refine CCPA Compliance Plan with the Regulations in Mind

We previously announced the publication of the first set of proposed regulations that will implement the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which goes into effect January 1, 2020. Partner Alan Friel has authored an article published by OneTrust DataGuidance that details how the proposed regulations – and a half dozen amendments to the CCPA that recently became law – impact CCPA compliance. A copy of the article is available here. The proposed regulations are available here and an initial statement of reasons that explain the thinking behind the proposed regulations is available here. The attorney general is currently taking written comments on the proposed regulations until December 6. BakerHostetler is preparing comments to file for specific clients, as well as a set of aggregate comments that reflect our clients’ concerns more generally. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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