The National Advertising Division (NAD), a voluntary advertising self-regulatory body administered by the Better Business Bureau, just dealt a major blow to the Pavlok Aversion Therapy wristband by recommending that it discontinue numerous unsupported claims as a violation of false advertising laws. Pavlok has said it will accept the recommendations.
Pavlok, a product by the Behavioral Technology Group, first entered the public’s general consciousness after being featured on “Shark Tank” this past May. (It did not get a deal, and involved a rather testy exchange between show stalwarts Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban, and the contestant.) In essence, Pavlok is a wristband that, with the press of a button, delivers an electric shock to the wearer. The product is based on behavioral conditioning first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov (hence the product’s name). The theory is that if the wearer voluntarily delivers an electric shock to himself whenever he engages in a habit he wants to break (consuming sugar, smoking, nail-biting, etc.), then eventually he will associate the habit with a shock and will subconsciously stop the habit.
Pavlok made numerous claims relating to its alleged efficacy in helping customers stop bad habits, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. After the NAD complaint was brought, but prior to the NAD’s final recommendation, Pavlok discontinued many of these representations.
However, Pavlok continued to represent—directly and through customer testimonials (which, as I’ve recently noted, are subject to false advertising laws the same as a company’s own representations)—that it “has helped hundreds quit smoking, nail-biting, unhealthy eating, overspending and more,” and could deliver results in as little as “a few days.” This claim relied on scientific studies and articles on aversion therapy in general (i.e., not related to Pavlok directly), as well as an eight-person pilot study that Pavlok conducted with the University of Massachusetts-Boston on Pavlok’s capacity to deter smoking.
After reviewing the studies, the NAD determined that the evidence did not support Pavlok’s claims, and it recommended that Pavlok discontinue its remaining representations. The NAD further recommended that Pavlok discontinue its customer testimonials regarding the alleged “bad habits” it had helped customers break, including eating sugar, biting nails, smoking, watching too much television, eating donuts, grinding teeth and experiencing angry thoughts. In a public statement, Pavlok agreed to discontinue the claims.
This case represents yet another example showing that a specific representation must be supported by specific evidence under federal false advertising laws. Pavlok could not simply rely on generalized “aversion therapy” studies and articles, since they did not involve the same type of aversion methodology, practices or products as Pavlok. Further, studies relating to the specific product or service at issue must be scientifically reliable—and the NAD evidently did not believe that the eight-person pilot study in this matter sufficed.
The point is, before you make factual representations about what a product can do—either directly yourself or through customer testimonials—you must first have a credible and reliable evidentiary basis for those representations.